AILA Public Statements, Press Releases

AILA Presents the “Airport Lawyers” with the 2017 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award

6/19/17 AILA Doc. No. 17061907.
George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) will recognize the "Airport Lawyers" with the 2017 Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award for outstanding service in advancing the cause of human rights this week during AILA's Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA.

On Saturday, January 28, 2017, lawyers all across the country woke up to news that two men, who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq, were detained and facing deportation at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, as the result of President Trump's executive order, known as the travel ban. Stories surfaced of other immigrants who were held for hours and deported. Chaos ensued as people were blocked from getting on flights despite valid travel documents. Lawful permanent residents, or "green card" holders, were swept up solely because of the country they hailed from. U.S. Citizen spouses, children, and other family members were terrified for themselves and their loved ones.

But out of the chaos and turmoil, a new type of resistance emerged. By the end of the first day, while tens of thousands of people were protesting the ban nationwide and thousands rallied at airports, the "Airport Lawyer" grassroots legal response was formed. There was an overwhelming response of attorneys, and though AILA member expertise and leadership was critical, these attorneys came from all areas of practice. At dozens of airports across the nation, "Airport Lawyers" were fighting for those stuck in limbo, a response that no had ever seen before.

Attorneys reacted by doing the one thing they could do that no one else could: give their legal expertise to those who needed it. They showed up at airports to bear witness, to protest, and to defend the Constitution by utilizing every tool at their disposal. Hundreds of lawyers volunteered in shifts over the next few weeks, coordinating and advising, counseling and battling to bring attention and understanding to what these policies were actually doing.

These "Airport Lawyers" used everything they had been taught in law school and beyond to push back against an unlawful executive action and AILA recognizes them for their persistence and dedication. They are all heroes and champions for human rights.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.