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Lawyers defend immigrants in Pittsburgh after Trump’s executive order

People+gather+at+Pittsburgh+International+Airport+to+protest+President+Trump%27s+executive+order+restricting+immigrants+from+seven+majority+muslim+nations+from+coming+to+the+United+States+for+90+days.+Stephen+Caruso+%7C+Online+Visual+Editor
People gather at Pittsburgh International Airport to protest President Trump's executive order restricting immigrants from seven majority muslim nations from coming to the United States for 90 days. Stephen Caruso | Online Visual Editor

People gather at Pittsburgh International Airport to protest President Trump's executive order restricting immigrants from seven majority muslim nations from coming to the United States for 90 days. Stephen Caruso | Online Visual Editor

People gather at Pittsburgh International Airport to protest President Trump's executive order restricting immigrants from seven majority muslim nations from coming to the United States for 90 days. Stephen Caruso | Online Visual Editor

By Nolan Roosa / For The Pitt News

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After making successful voyages into the United States, thousands struggled to make their way past security gates at airport arrival terminals across the country on Jan. 27

But without warning, hesitation or preparation, lawyers staked out spots on airport floors to assist people held up by President Donald Trump’s immigration order. Advocates and legal professionals from the American Civil Liberties Union set to work as well, representing stranded travelers and coming up with ways to stop President Trump’s ban.

Trump’s Jan. 27 order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States,” denied entrance to the U.S. from six countries — Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — for 90 days. It also suspended immigration from Syrian immigrants indefinitely.

A New York judge temporarily stayed the order after the ACLU made a case for its unconstitutionality. But that doesn’t mean the incertitude is over for local immigrants, people with family members and loved ones in any of the above listed countries or the 61 students who represent those countries at Pitt.

That’s where Pittsburgh’s immigration lawyers come in.

Kristen Schneck is a Pittsburgh immigration attorney and Pitt Law alumni who serves as chairperson for the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Pittsburgh Chapter. She said Thursday her firm has seen “a double or tripling” of calls from concerned clients since the order.

“A lot of people — from legal permanent residents from the seven [countries] affected, to people who might have dual citizenship — [have asked] ‘I want to travel somewhere to see my family, how will this affect me?’” she said.

Mark Goldstein, an immigration lawyer from Goldstein Associates in Pittsburgh, said his clients were panicked as the ban took effect.

“People are just scared now and are not sure what is happening,” he said. Goldstein is particularly concerned for students with visas.

If the order sticks, they might not be able to receive the expected year of practical training and employment authorization necessary for Optional Practical Training — temporary employment related to a student’s major area of study. Eligible students with a visa can apply before they’ve graduated for up to 12 months of OPT employment after their student visas have expired.

Hsuan Chang, a senior international student from Taiwan, is currently on a student visa. She was planning to stay in the states to apply for the OPT before Trump suggested he might cancel or shorten the program.

“This is not good news to international students, especially people who are planning to stay in the states a little bit longer after they graduate — or even immigrate here,” she said.

Local immigration authorities from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are telling lawyers to continue business as normal, Goldstein said. He wasn’t sure if they were following their own advice and taking cases as usual.

Schneck also described the the current moment as one marred in confusion. But for Andy Hoover, the communications director for Pennsylvania’s ACLU, the path forward is clear.

On Saturday, when his staff first heard that people were detained at the airport in Philadelphia, they began to act. The Pennsylvania ACLU lawyers connected with two other legal services organizations: the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Pennsylvania and the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“Several lawyers went to the airport to see if they could help,” he said. “They worked late into the night and the early morning, and by Sunday morning, we had an agreement with the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia that everyone who was detained and who had the documents for entry would be released.”

While the Pennsylvania ACLU was fighting for families who arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport, several other groups, including the International Refugee Assistance Project were also taking legal action on behalf of immigrant detainees.

The IRAP found out two Iraqi refugees were denied entry into the U.S. at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and had to return to Iraq. IRAP filed suit to argue that the order violated the Fifth Amendment defending due process, the 14th Amendment requiring equal protection, international law established at the Geneva Convention and immigration law. They were released after 24-hours of interrogation.

Hoover said people with immigrant visas from one of the seven countries should stay in the United States for now until this is all sorted out.

“This work is not just about lawyers doing their lawyer thing. It’s about everyone in the community standing up to xenophobia,” Hoover said.

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Lawyers defend immigrants in Pittsburgh after Trump’s executive order