A group of Seattle-area lawyers has tapped into technology to ensure that immigrants and families waiting for them at airports around the country have access to free legal help when they need it.
A group of lawyers has tapped into technology to make sure that immigrants and families waiting for them at airports around the country have access to free legal help when they need it.
A website launched Monday, called airportlawyer.org, collects information about travelers and sends it securely to volunteer lawyers near airports, who can then help clients on the ground.
The site, created by Seattle-area lawyers and New York legal software company Neota Logic, was spurred by President Trump’s recent executive order, said Tacoma immigration lawyer Greg McLawsen, who was involved in creation of the website.
The order banned travelers and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Its signing caused chaos at airports across the country, as people tried to reach family members stuck in customs and volunteer lawyers went to airports to offer their services.
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The lawyers were there. The families were there. But the problem was, how could they find each other?
Attorneys were just walking up to people and asking if they had friends arriving, McLawsen said.
“It’s really haphazard and there’s no organization around it,” said Takao Yamada, a lawyer with Seattle tech startup ReUp, who has been at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport nearly every day since the order was issued, and also was involved in the website’s creation.
The site takes in simple information from travelers’ friends or family members such as flight time and the type of visa the traveler holds. It then passes that information, with identifying details removed, on to a coordinating lawyer. Once a volunteer is assigned, that attorney can log in to a secure site to review the entire case.
“It makes such a difference to people to know that we are there to help them and we’re able to give them information,” Yamada said.
If families fill out the form, volunteer lawyers can come help them directly at the airport or can gather information in advance to prepare for a flight’s arrival.
The Trump entry ban was halted by an emergency ruling from Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart, creating temporary relief for family members who scrambled to get their loved ones back into the country as fast as they could.
The Trump administration has appealed that ruling. Arguments are expected to be heard Tuesday.
Airportlawyer.org currently has coordinating lawyers working near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Denver International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport.
The group has been drawing a lot of interest from lawyers and is planning to expand that list.
“I think the legal community, and a lot of people, they’re just desperate to find anywhere to help,” Yamada said.