Harvard Law students work with ACLU to challenge Trump administration immigration order

The 3rd floor wing of Wasserstein Hall that houses the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic is often a hub of activity. But last Friday, it was packed to capacity. Students perched on the arms of couches, crowded in corners, and angled for space around a small table. The call had gone out looking for students to help the ACLU with litigation research related to President Trump’s recent Executive Order restricting entry to the United States — and students responded in force. By Friday evening the group had grown to over fifty students. The students would spend their weekend conducting legal research to assist the ACLU in the ongoing case of Darweesh v. Trump, which challenges the Trump Administration’s Muslim ban.

In that case, the ACLU represents lead plaintiffs Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, Iraqi men who were detained after arriving at JFK Airport in New York City on January 27. The ACLU filed suit against the President on behalf of these men and a nationwide class of similarly situated individuals, seeking habeas relief and declaratory and injunctive relief.

When the government filed a motion to dismiss the petition last Friday, HLS students jumped at the chance to help the ACLU research the relevant issues for its forthcoming brief. Research requests came in throughout the weekend and into the next week, with students signing up to take on each assignment as the need arose. They found themselves researching topics ranging from class actions, discrimination law, constitutional law, statutory interpretation, standards of review, and a statute’s legislative history, among others.

Some of the students have worked with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic in the past, or have taken law school classes on immigration and refugee law. But most volunteers came into the project with limited subject matter knowledge. Some are still in their first year of law school, while others are in their last semester, with plans to work in the fields of patent law, administrative law, trade law. Yet all felt called to action by a desire to assist the lawyers challenging President Trump’s executive orders, which restrict entry and reentry into the United States for citizens and nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Immediately following the order, lawyers around the country jumped into action. James Pollack, a 1L working with the student group, recalls being struck by stories in the news of these “superhero” lawyers who could “pass the police line, demand information, work to reunite families, and ultimately stop an Executive Order, all from the floor of an airport.” He wanted to put the legal skills he had gained so far toward that effort—and he did, contributing case law and research on the statutory rights of individuals to apply for asylum.

Ben Shiroma, another 1L on the team, shared that feeling, noting that “it is important to take any opportunity I can to do this type of work.” Ben provided the ACLU team with case research on the proper standards of review under which the judiciary should review the Executive Order.

While this team of students was helping the ACLU research issues for its brief, another group of student volunteers helped to research and write HIRC’s own amicus curiae brief in the case. Both briefs were filed late last night.

This post was written by Carys Golesworthy, JD ’17