On 27 January, Donald Trump issued an executive order. It began his attempt to fulfil a key campaign promise: a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”.
On that wintry Friday night, as the nation’s airports descended into chaos, many people stood against the president’s first travel ban. Among them was a small group of young lawyers, working at a series of nonprofits, who one jokingly called Dumbledore’s army. They stand against Trump still.
Their Dumbledore – named for the headmaster of Hogwarts in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels – is Mike Wishnie, a soft-spoken Yale Law School professor who leads an immigration-focused clinic staffed by students.
On the night of the first ban, Wishnie was at a Boston Celtics game. The executive order was shocking, an attempt to ban entry to all refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The professor’s phone began to buzz. The callers were two former students, Justin Cox and Becca Heller.
Cox works for the National Immigration Law Center, out of its office in Atlanta. Heller runs the International Refugee Assistance Project (Irap), a New York-based organization she founded while at school. Irap had several clients who were on flights when Trump issued the ban. One, Hameed Darweesh, an Iraqi national who had worked with the US army, was then held by immigration authorities in New York.
“The first international flights out of JFK were leaving first thing the next morning,” Heller said. “I wanted to make sure our client wasn’t sent back. Justin suggested we go for habeas corpus – seek an order releasing our client. Mike thought we should make it a class action, covering all the people detained in airports across the US and denied entry, nationwide.”
As outrage spread across America, an ambitious plan started to form. Going home from the basketball game in a taxi, Wishnie mobilized around 20 current students to start researching and drafting papers that would, in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union, be filed with a duty judge in Brooklyn.