I am a coordinator for CAIR-Chicago’s Travelers Assistance Project, an organization of Chicago-based attorneys and interpreters who help people detained from entering the United State at O’Hare Airport.
Typically these people – tourists, students and even conference keynote speakers – have properly obtained Visas to enter the US. Unfortunately, there is a presumption of guilt that they are entering our country for reasons other than those stated. It creates a very hostile environment.
I was among the hundreds of attorneys who flocked to O’Hare when President Trump first signed the travel bans in January. I wanted to provide assistance to US citizens who were at risk of facing serious discrimination.
Our group has gradually become more formalized under the umbrella of the Council on American-Islamic-Relations Chicago (CAIR). And, we’ve learned to work with Customs and Border Protection rather than struggling against them.
One important innovation is the CAIR Chicago Traveler Alert System. Travelers who are detained do not have the right to call an attorney or even contact their families. Sometimes they are held in detention for weeks. The Alert System allows travelers to register their itineraries so we know to look for them at the airport. If someone doesn’t appear within a couple hours of their flight landing, we know to start contacting Customs.
My parents raised me to hold service close to my heart, and this is why I became a lawyer. It is lawyers who are there to uphold and fight for the rule of law. We are at the service of others.
I spend two nights a week volunteering at O’Hare and will be there as long as I am needed.