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O’Hare much quieter, but lawyers fear ‘fight is far from over’

Ali Hussain and Suzanne Alton de Eraso were stationed outside the arrivals gate at O'Hare's International Terminal in February. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

The crowds of chanting protesters are gone. So are the knots of anxious relatives awaiting word of detained loved ones.

But the lawyers are still there.

Armed with laptops, a generator, posters and markers, about a dozen attorneys remained in the International Terminal at O’Hare Airport Thursday night in the wake of an appeals court ruling refusing to reinstate President Donald Trump’s executive order that halted travel to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries.

The lawyers on hand Thursday night said that, while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 3-0 ruling was reassuring to their cause, more legal fights loom ahead.

“Hopefully things quiet down for a little bit,” said Suzanne Alton de Eraso, a commercial litigator who has been coming to the International Terminal for more than a week. “The fight is far from over but this is definitely reaffirming for us just having this news coming out of the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. Not that we had much doubt that any court would rule otherwise, we are very much relieved by this.”

The scene in the terminal Thursday night was a far cry from what the airport saw the day the executive order went into effect.

Thousands of protestors flocked to the airport to march and demonstrate and offer support to those offering pro bono legal advice. At least 18 people — including children and the elderly — were detained at O’Hare for several hours. Similar protests erupted at airports across the country.

Ali Hussain, a self-described community activist and volunteer, came out to the terminal for the first time Thursday to act as a translator for anyone who may need one. Hussain said he speaks “Urdu, Hindi and a little bit of Arabic” and came out to the airport because “I feel that the community needs my help.”

Shortly after the decision was handed down Thursday, Trump took to Twitter, alluding to an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Trump just said tonight ‘We’ll see you in court’ and my answer to that is ‘We’re not afraid,’” Alton de Eraso said. “We have excellent attorneys. The best, as Trump would say.”

Alton de Eraso added that while attorneys at O’Hare are not dealing with detentions like they were in the early hours of the order, they are still trying to figure out if any people are being stopped from re-entering the United States.

Attorneys once again gathered in O’Hare’s International terminal to offer pro bono legal advice to those affected by President Trump’s executive order. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times
Attorneys once again gathered in O’Hare’s International terminal to offer pro bono legal advice to those affected by President Trump’s executive order. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

“What we’re asking people about is ‘Did you see anyone detained on the back end in the country that you came from? What was going on? Did you see anyone who wasn’t allowed to board the flight?” she said.

The goal, Alton de Eraso said, was to “get a better idea of what was happening in countries where, unfortunately, we don’t have jurisdiction and don’t have a lot of control.”

The attorneys have been a steady presence in the terminal since the order was initially signed, with a section now cordoned off specifically for them and a generator providing the group with power.

Most passersby have welcomed their presence, Alton de Eraso said.

“It’s been really great, we do have, every once in a while, a heckler who comes through, but generally we get a lot of people coming up and saying ‘thank you very much,’” she said.