Rights lawyers offer legal aid to passengers at O’Hare airport

Posted on February 24, 2017   // 0 Comments  

DoYouNeedAttorney-RightsLawyers

DO YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY? These civil rights lawyers greet arriving international passengers on Sunday (Feb. 12) at Gate 5 of the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, asking them if they need legal services or if their fellow passengers were left behind for questioning by officers of the United States Customs and Border Protection due to the Muslim ban. (JGL photo by Marlon L. Pecson)

CHICAGO – An arriving Filipino-American passenger was greeted Sunday night (Feb. 12) at O’Hare International Airport by lawyers holding signs in English and Arabic asking, “Was anyone on your flight held or subjected to a secondary inspection? Do you need an attorney?”

Marlon L. Pecson, who arrived at the nation’s No. 1 international airport, was surprised to see lawyers, not travel agents, holding signs with the names of arriving passengers who need help in going through the airport.

When Pecson looked back past Terminal 5, the gateway of the international passengers at O’Hare, he noticed that there were neither long lines nor any commotion to indicate that arriving passengers were being asked a lot of questions.

Unlike the images he saw on television when he was still in the Philippines a week ago, which showed a chaotic atmosphere at U.S. airports with demonstrators carrying placards and banners with demands such as, “No Ban on Muslim,” or “No Building of Wall,” Pecson saw the nation’s No. 1 airport looked like a drab, normal place.

Another lady was also holding the sign, “Was anyone from your flight stopped” with Arabic translation while another gentleman was holding sign in Arabic without any English translation.

At another corner, he noticed a long table in an extension of an airport cafeteria that was turned into an office manned by lawyers.

Pecson said he presumed that a recent order of the three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California might have calmed down passengers at various international airports in the nation. The order temporarily allowed U.S. green card holders from seven Muslim countries to enter the United States. These countries are Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. These countries are covered by the 90-day ban President Donald Trump had earlier signed.

Rights lawyers offer legal aid to passengers at O’Hare airport

The Department of Homeland Security said it would no longer bar green-card holders coming from those countries from entering the United States in compliance with the court order.

Before the issuance of the order, many permanent residents (green-card holders) were denied entry into the U.S. at the border or were refused to board planes because they are nationals of the countries covered by the ban.

The Philippines was not included in the ban because it is a predominantly Catholic country with Muslim minority in the south (Mindanao). Knowing this, Pecson, a dual American-Filipino citizen from Luzon, was not concerned that he would be subjected to questioning upon his arrival at O’Hare.

He said the U.S. Customs Border officer only asked him if he has a “chicharon (pork rind), corned beef or balut.” He told the officer, “I do have a beef jerky I got in Texas.”

He added, “There was no hassle. I got through after a few minutes.”

If the Trump administration makes good its threat to impose another Muslim ban while it decides whether to appeal the ruling of the three-man court panel to an en banc appeals court or elevate the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, airports across the country could be the scenes of demonstrations by people opposing the ban.

In such scenario, civil rights lawyers would again descend on international airports to assist those who need their legal services.


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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A native of Sorsogon, Philippines, he and his family now live in Chicago. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.