On Jan 28, 2017, I was on the ground at Dulles Airport, joining dozens of my immigration lawyer colleagues in providing legal assistance to passengers caught in the chaos of Trump’s first travel ban. The scene was chaos, and despite having a federal court order signed by a US District Court Judge in hand, US Customs & Border Protection continued to stonewall and prohibit anyone from seeing detained immigrants, all of whom had valid green cards.
From my career as a lawyer serving asylum seekers, I knew instantly of the injustice taking place behind the scenes. Behind closed doors, immigrants in possession of green cards were being detained for days without the chance to speak to an attorney, and in some cases facing abusive police behavior without guidance of their legal rights.
This is not democracy. This is not a nation with due process enshrined in our Constitution. To deny access to the basic right of representation in the face of the capriciously implemented travel ban was to deny our guiding principles as Americans.
The history of America is one built on immigrants. This assault on the fabric of what America is built on compelled me to think about my own history as a child of immigrants. My parents came to America from Pakistan and worked tirelessly to make sure I had every resource at my disposal to achieve the American dream. Their material support made it possible for me to become an attorney, but the true value of their sacrifice lay in inspiring me to practice immigration law and afford others like my parents the opportunity to reinforce that chain of progress. The travel ban felt like a personal insult to that legacy.
That night, as I listened to chants of “Immigrants are welcome here!”, “Let them see their lawyers!”, and “Due process!” emanate from the crowd, I realized that this was real. That the values I revered, the values that made me who I am were truly under attack. It was also the night that I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Perriello.
Tom listened attentively as I told him of the clients I represented that day – the family of an Iraqi who earned his green card serving as a translator for our troops, an elderly heart patient in danger of being sent back to Iran without medical care. He listened as I expressed my frustration at being denied access to dozens more detained beyond our reach. Tom instantly understood that the events unfolding before our eyes represented an assault on due process of law, on the Constitution, and on our very essence as Americans. An assault carried out by the President of the United States.
I am not a one-issue voter, but in the age of Donald Trump our next governor must have a deep understanding and profound respect for due process. Tom Perriello’s solidarity with us at Dulles Airport and background as a fighter for justice at home and abroad proves to me that he is that leader. He has seen what happens in other countries where due process does not exist and understands that those rights lie at the foundation of a free and fair society. Tom also understands that Virginia is great when we embrace our differences, not fear them. There is no doubt in my mind that, as governor, Tom will use every legal tool at his disposal to zealously guard the Constitutional rights of all Virginians from encroachment by the Trump administration.
After meeting Tom at Dulles, I had the additional privilege to speak with him at a town hall in my home of Sterling, Virginia and watch his performance at the first Democratic gubernatorial debate in Fairfax last weekend. What continues to impress me about Tom is that even as he lays out carefully detailed policy proposals to create jobs, fairly allocate taxes, and push for transparency, he never forgets our guiding principles as Virginians, as Americans. Principles that serve as building blocks for the inclusive and prosperous society I want my children to grow up in.
I will be voting for Tom Perriello in the Democratic Primary on June 13th. As someone who has seen firsthand the threat posed by the Trump administration on our most fundamental rights, I would urge all my fellow Virginians to do the same.
Hassan M. Ahmad, Esq. is a lawyer with the HMA Law Firm in McLean