Volunteering legal help

(Left to right) Attorneys Marisa Diaz and Adelina Acuna were part of a team of volunteer legal experts who spent Sunday in the arrivals lobby of the international terminal at SFO.

On Sunday morning, Adelina Acuna threw a laptop, a notepad, some pens and all of her spare batteries into a bag and headed to San Francisco International Airport, but she wasn’t going to catch a flight. She went into International Arrivals, but she wasn’t meeting any one specific person. Rather, Acuna was there to meet anyone who needed help. With a handwritten sign that read, “Lawyer. Talk to me if you’re concerned about an arriving family member,” Acuna stationed herself at high traffic areas and tried to make contact with people whose relatives might be caught up in detention because of President Trump’s Jan. 27 Executive Order: Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.

The executive order led to protests at many international airports throughout the country, as individuals from suddenly blacklisted countries were detained or deported.

Acuna was one of those who went to the airport, but in her case, she went as a professional, albeit on a personal mission. Acuna is a deputy attorney general for the State of California, but she was there at SFO on her own time and for her own reasons.

“I am not an immigration lawyer by profession,” Acuna said. “But there was this incredible response on Sunday, both of immigration lawyers and not, just showing up and saying, ‘How can I help?’”

Adelina Acuna, who is the daughter of Cali Calmecac Principal Jeanne Acuna and a graduate of Cali, said that after arriving at the airport with a cadre of other attorney volunteers, they quickly strategized how to help. They weren’t being allowed to talk to the people who were still being held in detention from the night before, so they fanned out and tried to find family members who were there to meet people being detained off foreign flights.

“If we knew who was going to arrive, the attorneys on the ground could start getting paperwork in order, getting the forms necessary to establish representation and get out ahead of any pressure for landing visa- and green card-holders to sign away their rights or sign their own deportation orders which is a thing that could happen and did happen,” she said.

While she didn’t connect with any family members of the between five and 10 people being held at SFO on Sunday, Adelina did talk to several people who had just come to the airport because they’d heard about the volunteering attorneys and wanted to talk to them about immigration.

“A number of people came up to me and just said, ‘I heard there would be lawyers here, I am extremely worried, I don’t know what’s going to happen to my family member,’ or ‘My mom is in Tehran right now and she doesn’t know if she should fly out or stay put, what do I do?’”

Adelina said she helped these people by getting them in touch with a group of immigration attorneys who had set up a temporary law office, which was really just a bench by the Starbucks in the arrivals lounge.

On Saturday, the ACLU had also managed to get three judges to issue stays on the deportation element of the executive order, but with limited effect.

“Both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have just said that they’re not going to honor those court orders outside of the jurisdictions where they were issued,” Adelina said. “Which is, as an attorney, just a really bone-chilling disregard for the rule of law. I know those orders were drafted with the intention of having national effect -- certainly the judges who issued them thought they would have national effect but it’s an ongoing struggle to get border patrol to comply.”

After the events of the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement on Sunday that green card holders and permanent residents of the U.S. would not be denied entry under the ban, even if they came from the seven countries banned in Trump’s executive order.

On Monday, Senator Kamala Harris posted a photo of Adelina along with another volunteer attorney, Marisa Diaz, at SFO.

“So proud of the hard work of the lawyers who are camped out in airports across the country,” she wrote. “They’re on the front lines, and it is truly inspiring. Many of the architects of the civil rights era were lawyers – Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and Constance Baker Motley – and it is they who inspired me from a young age to want to be a lawyer and fight for justice. These lawyers will serve as an inspiration to the coming generations.”

Adelina said she would be continuing to monitor the situation and pitching in when and where she could.

“Certainly this administration is creating all manner of opportunities to either take it to the streets and make your voice heard, or to really contribute in more substantive, legal-work ways and I’m willing to do either on the weekends when I can,” she said.

In Windsor, seemingly far from airports with international terminals or detained would-be immigrants, Jeanne Acuna said she is incredibly proud of her daughter.

“She does what she does for all the right reasons to support people and community in every way she can,” she said. “She’s a fighter and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

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