When President Donald Trump used his first week in office to target immigrants and refugees with three separate executive orders, legal and advocacy groups, law-school clinics, and private attorneys across the country leaped into action.
Within 48 hours of the refugee ban’s going into effect, teams of lawyers and students from a Yale Law School clinic, along with ACLU and other legal groups, filed a writ of habeas corpus for an Iraqi man to request a “stay of removal,” and sought to establish a national class of similarly situated individuals. The same day they filed, a judge in Brooklyn issued a restraining order that temporarily prohibited the government from removing individuals affected by the order.
It was lightning-fast lawyering from an ad hoc collection of volunteer attorneys and law-school students, and it set the frenetic pace of legal action that has continued throughout Trump’s first month in office. One law-news site counted 39 lawsuits against Trump related to his immigration ban in just his first two weeks in office. The total number of lawsuits filed against Trump during that time was more than 70.
How did all of this legal activity happen seemingly spontaneously in reaction to what seemed to many of us like a surprise executive order? After all, many government agencies that would have been vital to the enforcement of the order learned of its implementation from news reports, the same as the rest of us.
In the Washington, DC, area, the refugee ban sparked a new kind of legal resistance group into being: Within 24 hours of a call to action from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), lawyers and volunteers descended on Virginia’s Dulles airport, forming, from scratch, the Dulles Justice Coalition. The coalition set up a pop-up legal clinic, complete with computers, printers, and donated pastries as fuel. One handwritten poster hanging off a folding table read: “If You Saw Anyone Detained, Talk to Us. Free Lawyers.”
DC-area supporters were not alone—at international airports across the country, protests, vigils, and legal blitzes fought back against “Trump’s Muslim ban.” While the executive order is currently suspended nationwide thanks to a ruling in Washington State upholding an earlier challenge to the order, the organizations that, however temporarily, derailed the order are now planning new ways to combat the administration’s next infringement on civil liberties.