The huge crowds of protesters that flocked to O’Hare International Airport over the weekend had dwindled Monday.
But the attorneys were still there.
President Donald Trump’s executive order sharply curtailing immigration and the rights of refugees sparked protests at airports across the country. People who landed in Chicago and elsewhere expecting to see loved ones were instead detained — and, in some cases, sent back to where they had come from.
On Monday, a makeshift camp of volunteer attorneys remained, sitting at folding tables a few feet from the arrivals exit at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 on Monday.
Nearer the exit for passengers, a group of attorneys held up signs — “Do know someone who has been detained?” — alongside limo drivers holding up the names of their fares. For most of the afternoon, the group of two dozen lawyers outnumbered the protesters chanting just a few feet away.
The International Refugee Assistance Project had organized groups of lawyers to staff the airport over the weekend, huddling with panicked families waiting for relatives who had been held under the shifting edicts of the ban.
Members of the group also were asking travelers if they had been questioned or had seen anyone detained on their flight, both to figure out what criteria officials might be using to detain people, and also to get physical descriptions of people on the other side of the doors, said Kate Long, an attorney.
“If someone says, ‘I saw them detain an old lady’ or a married couple or whoever, it helps us figure out who’s back there when someone calls, saying their relative has been detained,” Long said.
As of late Monday afternoon, the group was aware that 45 to 50 people had been detained at O’Hare throughout the day.
Among them was Wael Bugazia’s wife. The Houston resident flew to O’Hare on Monday afternoon to meet his wife, whose flight from Amman, Jordan, was connecting through O’Hare. A green-card holder with a Libyan passport, Bugazia didn’t think his wife would be detained, but he came to Chicago just in case. Her flight from Amman arrived about 4 p.m., but Bugazia still was waiting at the terminal doors four hours later.
“She has a green card. There shouldn’t be any problem,” Bugazia said, peering anxiously at the terminal doors as passengers headed to the exits. “If she is detained, there is something wrong with the whole system.”
Trump’s order also was met with resistance in the courts, with the American Civil Liberties Union backing challenges and obtaining stays to prevent implementation. Online donations to the ACLU surged, the organization said, with about $24 million pledged over the weekend.
On Sunday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had joined with 15 other attorneys general to condemn Trump’s executive order, signing on to a joint statement that condemned the ban as unconstitutional.
“We are confident that the executive order will ultimately be struck down by the courts. In the meantime, we are committed to working to ensure that as few people as possible suffer from the chaotic situation that it has created,” the statement said.