When President Trump passed an executive order temporarily banning travelers from “terror-prone” countries, Seattle attorney Takao Yamada hurried to the airport.
He was one of the first lawyers on the scene to lend a helping hand to innocent people who might be affected by the order.
“It was chaos,” Yamada says. Families waiting on loved ones, panicked. Not knowing if they were stuck in extensive interviews, being sent home, or worse.
No one knew what exactly the order meant or how it was being enforced.
All the disorder made it hard to really help anyone, Yamada says. Without knowing who was coming into the country, where they were coming from, and which kinds of papers they had, well-meaning attorneys were left scrambling.
Yamada got together with some fellow attorneys and had an idea: What if there was a way for us to get all of that information ahead of time?
Any good lawyer knows they’re a lot more effective with the proper preparation.
Yamada along with co-founders Greg McLawsen and Tahminda Watson, worked with some software developers to (quickly) create an app.
The app “Airport Lawyer” connects travelers coming into the U.S. with volunteer attorneys who can help them navigate U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Using a nationwide network of thousands of volunteers — Yamada said there are hundreds of attorneys in Seattle alone willing to help, free of charge — travelers from abroad can arrange to have a lawyer meet them at the airport when they land.
Sometimes, the lawyers will be prepared with extra papers and documentation to avoid any holdups at Customs and Border Protection. Other times, they’ll simply be a calm, informed presence that can keep tabs on the process and communicate with U.S. family members.
Though a federal court temporarily struck down Donald Trump’s travel ban, the administration is fighting back. Yamada expects more confusion and chaos as the chips continue to fall.
Here’s how you and your loved ones can use Airport Lawyer to help ensure safe and fair travels.
Step 1. Go to AirportLawyer.org and click “Get help now for an arriving immigrant.”
Provide as much information as you can on behalf of the traveler, including arrival date, airport, airline and flight number, visa type, and how the attorneys can get in touch with family members on the U.S. side.
Step 2. Once you do that, Airport Lawyer supervisors get notified of the arrival and match you with a volunteer attorney.
All the information is stored on a secure system, where the team will connect you with a volunteer lawyer near your airport (most of the big ones are covered, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.). If they can match you with an attorney, that person will reach out and help you come up with a plan for arrival.
Step 3. Stick it to Donald Trump.
Arrive safe. Clear Customs. Embrace your family. Show Donald Trump that his bigoted and unconstitutional policies won’t stand without a fight.
“It’s just been so amazing seeing how many people want to help,” Yamada says.
He recalls witnessing many powerful reunions between long-lost relatives, made possible in large part by the hard work of thousands of whip-smart attorneys during their precious free time.
Yamada himself wears several professionals hats, along with volunteering. And, oh yeah, his wife is pregnant. But he makes the time because he knows this is important.
“Most people are just trying to get back here to see their family,” he says. That’s nothing something Donald Trump should be allowed to take away from us.