Community Connections Profiles Uncategorized

Local lawyer reunites Iranian family separated by travel ban

Buzz Frahn with Alex and his brothers and their families, along with Simpson Thacher lawyers Linda Nyberg, Jonathan Mincer and Drew Simon-Rooke

Let’s get one thing straight: Harrison J. “Buzz” Frahn is not an expert in immigration law. But as an attorney at Simpson Thacher and a compassionate believer in due process, Buzz jumped at the chance to help people who were stranded in legal limbo by the travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries that was hastily implemented in January.

Harrison J. “Buzz” Frahn, Palo Alto lawyer who helped reunite a local Iranian family impacted by the January travel ban. Photo credit: Simpson Thacher and Bartlett LLP

Looking at the fine print

“As a lawyer, my instinct is to look at the fine print,” Buzz said. “And when I read the text of the travel ban, it made my blood boil with anger at what the government was doing. I value fairness and constitutionality and this order violated both.”

Protecting justice and due process

That’s why Buzz joined Palo Alto’s Susie Hwang and other lawyers at SFO on January 28th when the travel ban went into effect.  “We were working on habeas corpus briefs to intervene for folks at SFO, along with other people we heard about from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).”

A chance to help a local family

While there were no cases that emerged from Buzz’s time at SFO that day, he did connect with a family in need of legal support just few days later. “After I stood up during service at Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist Church to share my experience at the airport, I heard from another member of the congregation about an American citizen who had two brothers stranded in Iran due to the travel ban,” Buzz said. “I was eager to see what I could do.”

Protests at SFO January 28th against the travel ban. Photo credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

After 14 years, a family finally gets visas to the US

Alex (not his real name) spent fourteen years trying to get legal visas for his brothers to emigrate to the United States. He finally succeeded in January 2017, and his brothers prepared to leave Iran by quitting their jobs and selling their homes and possessions. Unfortunately for this family, the unexpected travel ban came at just the wrong time.

Stranded in Dubai despite legal visa to the US

With no US embassy in Iran, one brother had flown to Turkey to get the visa put in his passport (a process that must be completed in person), while the other brother went to Dubai for the same purpose. When the travel ban abruptly went into place, the brothers were left in limbo, despite having legal visas. Buzz and team of volunteers from Simpson Thacher began working to advocate on behalf of the brothers, calling the State Department, the US Embassy and elected officials including local US Representative Anna Eschoo and Senator Tim Kaine to seek intervention.

Scrambling as travel ban is temporarily halted

In the meantime, lawyers across the United States were working to fight President Trump’s travel ban on grounds that it was unconstitutional. Buzz and his colleagues at Simpson Thacher filed an amicus brief in support of the legal challenge to the ban, joining many other firms in working to overturn the executive order. After U.S. District Judge James Robart of Seattle issued halt to enforcement of the ban, Buzz got on the phone to Alex and recommended that his brothers prepare to leave Iran immediately.

“In today’s world, challenges can feel daunting, but we can find something to do that will help others. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to make a difference for this one family, and I’m ready to jump in to help others as the new ban goes into place.”
As the case made its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the brothers were in transit to the United States; one with a visa got on a plane to San Francisco and the other returned to Dubai to complete the visa process.

Reunited with gifts…for lawyers

By February 11th, both brothers had safely arrived in SFO. Buzz and the other lawyers from Simpson Thacher were waiting in the terminal as Alex’s brother, his wife and three year old son emerged from the CBP checkpoint to greet their family. “It was an extraordinarily emotional moment for me and all of us,” Buzz said.

A few days later, the entire extended family- now finally reunited- came by Simpson Thacher’s office in Palo Alto to bring gifts and say thank you. “Even as they prepared to pack their lives for good and come to a new country, they left room for a present for their lawyers,” Buzz said. “That’s a sign of how appreciative this family is to be in the United States.”

Gearing up to help others

Now that the President has issued a new version of the travel ban, Buzz and his colleagues at Simpson Thacher are gearing up for another effort to protect people who are have legal rights to come to the United States.

“It’s a huge volunteer effort and not all of us are immigration specialists, but we’re creative problem solvers when it comes to helping people get due process and justice,” Buzz said.”In today’s world, challenges can feel daunting, but we can find something to do that will help others. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to make a difference for this one family, and I’m ready to jump in to help others as the new ban goes into place.”


About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.