SEATTLE-TACOMA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Wash. – Airport officials at Sea-Tac, immigration lawyers and Sound Transit say they are ready for any backlash that may come from the new travel restrictions expected from the Trump administration.
They said they have been working on the preparations since the massive protests at the end of January took Seattle, and the country, by surprise.
Since President Donald Trump’s first executive order on travel, volunteer attorneys have been stationed at Sea-Tac working rotating shifts.
“You can find us at baggage claim between 7 and 8 every day,” said Takao Yamada.
Yamada worked with Heidi Anderson to organize the volunteer corps, 125 members strong.
“We staff essentially from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Heidi Anderson, an attorney with Lane Powell. “We did have four people per shift, now we’re down to two, but depending on what happens with whatever new executive order comes down, we may up the staffing depending on need.”
Yamada said he is worried about the new travel restrictions, but they are prepared. He said the hardest part about their job is the unknown.
“We have no idea what it’s going to look like, who it’s going to target, how it’s going to target them,” he said about the new restrictions.
No specific details have been released by the White House that would help Yamada and Anderson prepare, but they do know what their release can spark.
“The entire country was blindsided,” said Kimberly Reason, Sound Transit spokeswoman. “Entire airports, jurisdictions and those running public transit were doing their best to respond in real time.”
Sound Transit suspended their service to the airport for 30 minutes at the height of last month’s protests. They said law enforcement directed it to do so, over safety concerns.
“We now know what that was like,” said Reason. “Our goal is always to continue running service. That is certainly our game plan for whenever this next announcement comes down the pike.”
Reason said they have more trains ready and waiting to bring travelers and protesters alike to the airport.
Sea-Tac has four locations outside of the arrivals section for protesters to gather. They are hoping to mitigate any impact to travelers that were seen during the first protests. Locations like the flag pavilion and charter bus lot will be designated for critics to gather.
“We wouldn’t have been as successful, we wouldn’t have seen the response from the administration, had thousands of people not shown up at the airport,” said Yamada. “Without that sense of community outrage, I don’t think that people take it as seriously as they do.”
Yamada said he is hopeful that the volunteer corps will be able to do their job when the new restrictions come down, getting everyone represented and through customs without issue. If that is the case, Yamada said, there is no need for critics to travel to the airport.
“If things are going really well, then I would encourage protesters not to come to the airport,” he said. But, he said if they are unable to work together with the airport and officials, they may need people ready and willing to assemble.
“If we can’t be an effective advocate for the families who are worried in the airport that their person isn’t coming out, because they’ve been back there for nine hours, then we may need people who are going to join us and let the airport know, we as a community do not find this acceptable.”
You can follow the volunteer attorney corps working at Sea-Tac on Twitter: NoBanSEA
If you are a traveling or know someone who is traveling and have concerns, you can contact airportlawyer.org for free resources. If you do not have access to the internet, you can leave a voicemail at (971) 225-0141 for free legal aid.