Creating a Pro-Refugee Movement: Our Response to the Executive Order

All over the country, across political divides, leaders and organizers have been scrambling to figure out how to confront the new threats that challenge America’s fundamental values and ideals — that we are an open, welcoming, and democratic society with deep respect for the rule of law.

On January 27, an executive order temporarily freezing the refugee program and banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States was signed into action. Amidst global disbelief, uncertainty, and fear, the staff and volunteers at the International Refugee Assistance Project immediately sprung into action.

The result: a historic movement that energized thousands around the world to stand up for refugees and established a blueprint for how to effectively and strategically fight back against unchecked executive power.

Together, we continue to utilize every tool — through the courts, through civic action and protest, through our contacts with allies on both sides of the aisle, through the media, and through a self-organized volunteer network — to work tirelessly to deliver legal solutions for the world’s most vulnerable refugees.

Grassroots Legal Mobilization: Lawyers Flood U.S. Airports in Defense of Immigrants’ Rights

On January 25, two days prior to the signing of the damaging executive order and in anticipation of likely chaos at all points of entry to the United States, we sent out an urgent call to action to all of our affiliated lawyers and their networks. We organized a task force of pro bono lawyers at numerous international airports across the country to defend the rights of incoming refugees and immigrants. Over 1,600 volunteers responded to our call within less than 24 hours. When the order went into effect in the late afternoon on Friday, January 27, we were ready.

Read about the efforts in The New York Times and New York Magazine.

Through this action, IRAP was able to:

  • Seize control of the international narrative by demonstrating the chaos and discrimination behind the executive order and its implementation (It was this narrative that carried the news for three full days following the order, leading to Congressional protests and hearings and an internal investigation of the Department of Homeland Security.);
  • Start a movement by mobilizing lawyers and volunteers at airports, who became self-organizing, with regional networks around the country that provide individual legal representation and advocate with airlines and local governments.

Litigation: Fighting the Travel Ban in the Courts

In response to the original executive order, IRAP became involved in two lawsuits, IRAP v. Trump and Darweesh v. Trump, to challenge the travel ban and protect the rights of our clients and other refugees and immigrants, while simultaneously proving that executive power can be checked.

Learn more about these lawsuits and our wider litigation efforts:

  • Darweesh v. Trump: Preventing Mass Detention and Deportation

Darweesh v. Trump was the first lawsuit filed in response to the executive order and prompted a federal judge in New York to grant a nationwide stay of removal, preventing the unlawful detention and deportation of refugees and others who had valid documents to enter the United States.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Iraqi IRAP clients, Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who had been unjustly detained at the airport and threatened with deportation. They are represented by IRAP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) at Yale Law School, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.

View the complaint: Darweesh v Trump

View the press release:

View the New York Times story:

  • IRAP v. Trump

IRAP v. Trump was the first lawsuit challenging the executive order in its entirety. The complaint states that the order is equivalent to a Muslim ban and thus unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of equal treatment under the law. On June 26, 2017, the United States Supreme Court decided to review the case.

The lawsuit was filed by IRAP, HIAS, and individual plaintiffs. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center are acting as co-counsel.

View the complaint: IRAP_v_Trump_Complaint

View the press release: GROUPS FILE NEW CHALLENGE TO TRUMP MUSLIM BAN Press Release Feb 7 2017

Ongoing Policy Advocacy in Light of the Travel Ban

IRAP continues to work with our congressional allies, faith-based and other communities, and veterans to ensure that vulnerable refugees have legal pathways to safety. In the United States, we are:

  • Supporting congressional efforts to oppose all iterations of the Muslim ban;
  • Highlighting the negative impact of any refugee resettlement reduction for highly vulnerable groups, including Iraqis with close U.S. affiliations in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, LGBTI individuals, and children with medical emergencies;
  • Advocating for additional Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan interpreters who served the U.S. government and NATO in Afghanistan.

In addition to our work in the United States, we are proactively reaching out to other governments and international partners to explore alternative solutions for our clients in other safe, third countries.

We Will Never Back Down: Next Steps

We will continue our work to provide safe passage for refugees and to fight back against all iterations of the Muslim ban, by:

  • Building out our own in-house litigation shop to challenge unconstitutional and discriminatory policies toward refugees in court;
  • Creating data tracking and rapid response mechanisms, in cooperation with local governments, to know when people are being illegally harassed and detained at airports;
  • Expanding our policy advocacy and communications work to bring non-traditional voices to the forefront of the fight for refugee rights; and
  • Advocating for alternative legal pathways to safety in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, for persecuted individuals for whom existing resettlement programs may no longer be an option.
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