Attorneys: travel ban fight is 'a marathon' with no end in sight

Darran Simon, CNN | 3/7/2017, 10:33 a.m.
In the days after President Donald Trump's first travel ban was introduced on January 27, clients streamed into Neha Vyas' ...
Protesters at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport CNN photo

Lawyers and activists wanted to help. Others passed along stories of immigrants being detained. She relayed one story to Owings, the Atlanta attorney.

"I have never really felt so overwhelmed before, at least in recent memory," said Shahshahani, a human rights lawyer.

She said advocating for the rights of immigrants is intense and stressful work.

"You need to be able to relax for moments of time," she said. "And I'm not alone. I think anybody doing this work just hasn't been able to get really rest and relaxation."

She said the Saturday after the ban was issued was intense -- but the day after was uplifting.

A local activist asked her to co-organize a rally at Hartsfield, where thousands showed up to oppose the travel ban.

Some people who showed up had never been to a protest before.

"I've never seen this level of energy on the part of just everyday people," she said."People are awake and ready to come out on the streets."

'Just in total triage mode'

Portland immigration attorney Jennifer Morrissey and Washington, D.C. immigration attorney Amber Murray had never worked together before last month.

The two lawyers successfully helped bring a 4-month-old Iranian baby ensnared in the initial travel ban to the United States to undergo life-saving heart surgery.

Murray, 34, who specializes in humanitarian immigration and human rights cases heard about Fatemeh's Reshad's story through a group called Lawyers for Good Government, an organization of more than 120,000 lawyers, law students and legal activists that formed in wake of Trump's election.

The girl was born with a common heart defect, and needed to come to the United States for essential surgery. Her family had a Feb. 5 appointment to apply for a visa at the American embassy in Dubai, but they were told appointment was canceled after the ban, Morrissey said.

Dr. Mary Seideman, a trained oncologist and co-founder of a medical and scientific communications and consulting company, helped the lawyers get Fatemeh's medical records. She contacted at least a half a dozen specialists trying to find someone willing to the surgery pro bono.

The travel ban allowed for a waiver, but there was no guidance on how to apply for the waiver or what the requirements were, Murray said.

Usually, with new immigration procedures, there would be clear directions, the attorneys said.

"We had to contact members of Congress to give us a point person to even apply for the waiver, which added another level of insanity," Murray said.

Morrissey recalled sequestering herself in her office with the door closed for "about four business days."

"We were just in total triage mode," Morrissey said. "I felt like I was running on adrenaline and caffeine for about a week."

Fatemeh was granted the waiver on February 3 -- the same day a federal judge in Washington state blocked the initial ban.

On February 5, Murray and Seideman greeted Fatemeh and her family during a layover in New York, on the way to the Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

Fatemeh underwent surgery on February 17 and is recovering.

"There's been a whole banding together of lawyers in a way that I have never seen before," Murray said.

On Friday, Morrissey will meet Murray and Seideman for the first time in Portland. They will speak to students at Morrissey's daughter's all-girls school to showcase the "power of three women working together on a common cause," Morrissey said.

They will visit Fatemeh in the hospital, and hatch a plan to work together on similar issues.

And they'll grab dinner because, as Seideman is always reminding her new friends, they need to eat.