'Crisis Mode': Immigration Lawyers Scramble After Trump Win | NBC New York
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'Crisis Mode': Immigration Lawyers Scramble After Trump Win

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    A naturalization ceremony for new citizens held in Miami, Nov. 10, 2016 -- a day after Trump became President-elect.

    The calls began within hours of when Donald Trump declared victory.

    Immigrants with pending cases called D.C. immigration lawyer Jim Tom Haynes starting Wednesday morning to ask if they would be forced out of the United States. Within 24 hours of Trump winning the presidency, Haynes had reassured more than 20 people that he would help them.

    "We're operating in crisis mode," he said. "The mood is very, very pessimistic and dark."

    The immigration assistance and advocacy organization CASA de Maryland also is fielding a surge in phone calls from people worried about their futures. Lawyers can't answer every question immigrants have about the impact of Trump's win, legal program manager Nicholas Katz said.

    "People are looking for answers and we don't know what this is going to look like," he said.

    In Trump's first days as president-elect, immigration lawyers are scrambling to help fearful clients but uncertain of how policy changes may affect the lives of millions of people.

    Attorneys across the country are figuring out how to navigate a "scary, uncertain environment," American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) executive director Benjamin Johnson said. He is advising the D.C. organization's more than 14,000 members to prepare their clients for the worst.

    "Sometimes the most important thing you can do is to prepare them for what might happen, even if you don't know exactly what it is," he said. "You have to provide them with a picture of the possibilities."

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    AILA held an urgent conference call Wednesday afternoon, 12 hours after Trump declared victory. So many people tried to participate in the call that AILA hit the 500-participant limit of the dial-in conference service they used; lawyers were turned away.

    Johnson said immigrants and their attorneys have reason to be afraid of President-elect Trump.

    "[Fear is] justified because some very, very scary things were said during the campaign and 'Did he really mean that?' is a very legitimate question," he said.

    The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

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    On the campaign trail, Trump said he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives temporary work permits to "Dreamer" immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

    He called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."

    After facing swift backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike, the proposal was repackaged to describe a suspension of immigration "from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur."

    Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists and criminals to the U.S., and famously vowed to build a wall between the countries and force Mexico to pay for it.

    When Trump takes office Jan. 20, immigration attorneys are uncertain if they should expect dramatic or incremental change.

    Haynes' firm, Haynes Novick Immigration, urged their clients in a mass email sent Wednesday evening that they should "try to complete their cases as soon as possible."

    Haynes said Trump's win has forced him to reevaluate dozens of pending cases. Instead of postponing a Dec. 5 court date for a Central American immigrant seeking asylum, Haynes said he will pursue an administrative closure that will allow the applicant to stay in the country with a work permit.

    "We have to go forward, even though we don't necessarily want to," he said.

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    Before Trump takes office, CASA, the immigrant assistance nonprofit, is holding additional trainings to teach immigrants their rights. The group will hold a community meeting from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Mayfield Intermediate School in Manassas, Virginia, to counsel families about what they can do ahead of Jan. 20.

    "We're working on trying to advise people about their rights and ... the risks in a very uncertain environment," Katz said.