Refugee from Iraq, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, hugs Congressman Jerrold Nadler while Congresswoman, Nydia Velazquez, looks on after Darweesh was detained at JFK Airport, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.
Immigration attorney Camille Mackler thought it would take a few hours to help travelers stranded at Kennedy Airport by the Trump administration’s travel ban.
“They said, ‘Find somebody to take it over when you are ready to leave,’” Mackler recalled another volunteer telling her two days after the order was signed on Jan. 27.
That never happened.
Over the next nine days, Mackler worked 12-hour shifts overseeing an army of 1,000 volunteer lawyers. All told, they assisted 267 panicked families from a makeshift base in Terminal 4.
It was colossal. But not in the way of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem about the Statue of Liberty, the beacon of immigrants that stands in New York Harbor — mere miles from Kennedy Airport in Queens — and holds a torch high to show people the way to a better life.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
Immigration attorney Camille Mackler.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Mackler, 37, the director of legal initiatives for the New York Immigration Coalition, was a natural fit for the disaster unfolding at JFK: Her day job entails supporting a network of legal providers with training courses.
The Kennedy Airport endeavor began unassumingly enough — but it soon became extreme lawyering, requiring quick thinking and just about every skill the attorneys possessed.
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Congresswoman Nadia Velazquez with Hameed Khalid Darweesh (c.), and Congressman Jerold Nadler (r.), at JFK Airport after disembarking from a plane that arrived from Iraq.
Mackler and other immigration lawyers had gotten wind that the Trump administration was going to issue an executive order banning travelers from Muslim-majority countries.
They didn’t know it would go into effect immediately and seek to block entry for 90 days of citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. They didn’t know how many people were suddenly about to be men, women and children without a country.
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
A day after the order was signed, Mackler drove from her Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, home with two other lawyers to JFK to see if she could help the stranded or booted travelers.
Muslim men pray at a prayer and demonstration at JFK Airport to protest President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on Feb. 3, 2017 in New York City.
“We started planning a strategy to mount a protest,” she said, noting the lawyers in the car were frantically calling activists and elected officials. “I didn’t know that drive to the airport would set off a chain reaction of events.”
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Inside, they were met by Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler, both city Democrats who were demanding the ban be lifted and desperately trying to free a U.S. Army translator and at least 17 others.
When Hameed Khalid Darweesh was finally let go after 18 hours, Mackler became emotional. “I just remember tears coming down my face,” she recalled.
Massive protest jammed Kennedy Airport on night of President Trump’s travel ban aimed at Muslim-majority countries on Jan. 27.
The next day, she took over a Google Document with the names of lawyers, incoming flights, interpreters and volunteers. “The energy was amazing, but it was also a little terrifying,” she said. “There was no real system.”
Mackler assigned volunteers based on their qualifications to different stations for set periods. The team — which later had to actually turn away lawyers wanting to help — launched an email and phone hotline for family members of detained travelers.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
And the calls came flooding in.
Muslim men attend a prayer and demonstration at JFK Airport to protest President Trump’s order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on Feb. 3, 2017 in New York City.
Many people asked for clarification on the ban — which was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in New York. The callers also sought backup in case they were detained by federal agents at the airport.
Mackler and the legion of lawyers also had to convince some airlines to allow people to board. The carriers were worried they wouldn’t be able to let some travelers from the targeted countries leave the plane once they landed in other cities.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
“They’d keep telling us we need to hear from D.C.,” Mackler said.
Now, several months later, Mackler and her colleagues are preparing for the next crisis and the latest Trump administration efforts to ban immigrants.
“We are trying to identify areas that may need research,” she said. “One of our groups is called ‘Doomsday Preparedness.’ They forecast all the terrible things that can happen.”
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Still, Mackler has had a little time to reflect.
“We used everything we had been taught in law school and beyond to fight back,” she said. “The response at JFK — from protest to lawyers — has become a symbol of the resistance.”