As hundreds of lawyers started working at airports on January 28 to help people detained there in the wake of Donald Trump’s travel ban–and others assisted from afar–some of those lawyers also started using Twitter.
“I have been on Twitter for a whopping 12 days,” Marie Louise Ramstade, a South Carolina attorney who has been working remotely and helping coordinate on some issues between national and international airports, tells Co.Exist. “This immigration crisis got me on Twitter. We were trying to figure out what all the different airports were doing, and people were saying, ‘Check their Twitter account.'”
In the first few days, when the crisis was most acute, one volunteer created the handle @helpthelawyers to begin coordinating requests for pizza, mobile hotspots, or translators, and sharing documents like a spreadsheet listing airports and travelers at risk of detainment. In another state, someone else started using the hashtag #helpthelawyers, and then the two volunteers started working together.
“We’re not only helping attorneys get coffee and their parking paid for–we’re also finding attorneys in Egypt that know Urdu and can help,” says Natalie Woods Lyda, a human rights and media law specialist based in Atlanta, who started the @helpthelawyers account. “There are people out there saying ‘I’m in this country, I speak this language, I have this document, I need a lawyer,’ and we’re also helping with personnel fulfillment.”
Another volunteer, Sara Kubik–a recent law school graduate who also happens to have a technology degree–combed through tweets to help connect lawyers with people offering technological help, and to help translate legalese in some tweets into something clearer for others to understand.
“Twitter is crucial to what’s going on here,” says Kubik, who is studying for the bar in rural Michigan. Though far from a major airport, she was able to use Twitter to help coordinate. “The ABA, the ACLU, all these big entities are like Titanics: really good and powerful. But to be nimble and quick, people are coming to us.”
At the largest airports, pro bono lawyers quickly formed handles of their own, like @NoBanJFK, and started using it to coordinate a massive effort and discuss the latest news from the courts about the executive order. Twitter is part of a system that lawyers now say is replicable. Even though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban, lawyers’ jobs are far from finished: As the administration starts conducting large-scale raids of workers at risk of deportation, for example, the attorneys now have practice reacting on the fly.