Lawyers on the Front Lines, Part 2: Hotline Bling!
Read part one of this series here.
The airport shifts continued for two weeks. All known travelers, entitled to come through the United States through Houston, came through – often subjected to hours of processing and questioning, but through nonetheless. The on-the-ground lawyer advocacy at the airport was incredibly effective, with lawyers coordinating with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and family members of the travelers, trying to ensure proper treatment. Though we threatened, no Habeas petitions were filed from Houston, as they were from other international airports.
Throughout these two weeks, while lawyers helped many travelers, the coordinating group was busy planning for what was to come next.
February 3, 2017 | Scene: Non-Profit Conference table – representatives from ACLU, Tahirih Justice Center, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative and V&E.
“The Judge has blocked the ban nationwide – does that mean we can stop sending lawyers out to the airport?
“But what if CBP doesn’t interpret the orders correctly. Who helps those passengers?”
“During my shift, many people were coming to the airport JUST to ask questions at the tables. Maybe this is a service we need to continue to provide?”
“But a lot of the questions aren’t directly related to the travel ban – many people had general immigration questions. Do we need to be answering those questions too?”
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a way for people’s immigration and travel questions to be answered all the time?
“Are we thinking permanent booth at the airport?”
“WHAT ABOUT A HOTLINE?”
And thus, the Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline was born.
A flurry of planning emails followed, including planning for volunteer shifts, proper phone and voicemail set-up, social media and traditional media coverage, volunteer training, phone scripts, etc. It was a busy week.
February 10, 2017 | Scene: Non-Profit Conference table – representatives from ACLU, Tahirih Justice Center, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative and V&E.
The 9th Circuit has upheld the stay on the ban – I think our airport days are finally over!”
“Time to launch the Hotline!”
On February 22, the Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline officially launched. On that first day, even before the press release was distributed, and just on social media coverage alone, we received approximately 15 calls. Those first calls were similar to the calls that continue to come to this day – concerns about what is being reported in the news, fears about routine traffic stops, casual encounters with police, and requests for referrals for help with their individual immigration situation.
The Hotline has been in operation since February 22, and has had a steady stream of calls, with volunteer lawyers from all over Houston – solo practitioners and big law firm lawyers – answering questions, quelling fears, making good referrals, and sharing “Know Your Rights” information with concerned Texans. The detailed script,
written by immigration experts, provides very detailed guidance for volunteers
to share up-to-date information with our callers –including recent changes to
immigration laws, family preparedness, notario fraud, avenues for relief, and
general tips to allay real fears of the immigrant community in Texas.
The coordinating group meets regularly, constantly assessing the needs, reviewing the stats on the calls, updating the script and materials, and ensuring that we are doing what we can to provide good and reliable information for immigrants in Texas who are looking for answers.
Read more about the Hotline on Chron.com and Houston Public Media.
Texas Immigration Rights Hotline