After the stroke of Trump’s pen, a dramatic 34 hours
President Donald J. Trump paused as he removed the cap from his pen, an executive order severely limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations waiting on the desk before him.
It was Friday afternoon, and an oversize replica of the Medal of Honor hung on the Pentagon wall behind Trump.
“That’s big stuff,” the president said, and scrawled his jagged signature.
It was 4:43 p.m. The chaos that would erupt at airports all over country was still hours away.
But around Boston, a patchwork resistance effort was taking shape.
In the 34 hours that followed, lawyers would mount a frantic effort to overturn the order; politicians and protesters would descend on Logan International Airport as detainees waited behind closed doors; and somehow, at a federal court hearing in the middle of the night, they would win.
When Susan Church and Heather Yountz saw the order Friday night, they knew they had to come up with a plan.
Church, chairwoman of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Yountz, an associate at Church’s Cambridge law firm, have devoted their careers to immigration law. They had been waiting for the order to arrive, and Yountz spent Friday night in tears and disbelief.
On Saturday morning, as lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union began to prepare legal challenges to the order, the two women talked by phone. Maybe they could go to the airport and drum up some media attention, raise some awareness.
But it wasn’t even clear early Saturday morning whether the order was being enforced. And anyway, Church’s kids had sports and other activities to get to; Yountz had been planning to take her son to an immigration rally on Boston Common. Yountz threw on jeans and sneakers, and drove in from Needham for the rally.
By mid-morning, though, everything changed. Church got word from Customs that the order was already being enforced, and a nationwide tracking document showed a citizen of one of the seven affected countries had arrived in Logan around 11 a.m. only to be put on a flight back to Europe. Church called Yountz.
Church told her, “We need to act now.”
The blood drained from Yountz’s face.
Yountz and her son raced to the front of the protest, found her car, and drove to Church’s house in Newton, where she quickly showered and changed into a borrowed suit and a pair of shoes two sizes too big. Yountz’s husband came and got her son; Church’s husband Derege Demissie, also a partner in her firm, took their daughter rock climbing.
Church and Yountz quickly put together a list of eight immigration lawyers who were willing to take cases pro bono. If they could find someone whose relative was being held at the airport because of the executive order, they could sue.
They printed out fliers with the lawyers’ names and cell phone numbers and drove to the airport. It was 3:30 p.m.
Using a roll of green hockey tape that Church grabbed from her son, they started posting fliers and approaching anybody they thought might be waiting for someone being detained.
But as hours ticked past, nobody appeared to be waiting for a missing loved one.
For lawyers in need of a plaintiff, this was a problem.
“To file any lawsuit, you need a plaintiff.” said Church. “You can’t just go in and say, ‘this is wrong.’”
Somewhere high above the Atlantic ocean, Mazdak Tootkaboni and Arghavan Louhghalam watched a movie on a Boeing 777 bound for Logan.
Iranian immigrants who have lived in the United States as permanent residents for more than a decade, the couple had left home a week earlier for a conference in Marseille. Both engineering professors at UMass Dartmouth, they each had doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University. They traveled often.
But they’d arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris on Saturday to a warning. New rules, enacted in the last 24 hours, could cause the couple some problems on their journey home.
An official had checked a few things and told them that they’d be OK: They both had green cards.
At 4 p.m. Paris time, they boarded the flight home, seeing no reason to worry.
The flight landed at Logan about half an hour early, about 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. Tootkaboni and Louhghalam passed through the normal processing for permanent residents, but something was different.
They were pulled aside, Tootkaboni said, and told they were subject to new screening. They were brought to a private room with about a dozen other people. There, they were told to wait.
As afternoon gave way to evening, Mayor Martin J. Walsh headed home after a typical Saturday as mayor: stops at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, an affordable housing project on Dorchester Avenue, and an anniversary celebration in the South End.
CNN flickered on his television. He’d been on that morning, talking about his pledge to allow immigrants to seek sanctuary at City Hall. Now, he was watching word of detentions and protests spread to Chicago O’Hare, Washington D.C., and beyond.
At 6 p.m. Walsh tweeted a statement calling Trump’s executive order a “reckless policy . . . rooted in fear, not substance” that “further divides us as a nation & world. It is simply morally wrong.”
But that wasn’t enough. His staff kept him apprised of the growing crowd at Logan.
“I need to show support for people being detained,” Walsh later recalled thinking. “Part of it was anger. I was angry and a little sad. This is America. This is the United States of America and I was watching the country divide in front of my eyes.”
At Logan, Church was growing despondent. She and Yountz sat on a bench with what was left of their fliers. It was 6 p.m. An AirFrance flight that had just arrived, they realized, might be their last chance to find someone.
They’d been looking for more than two hours, Yountz traipsing around in her boss’s oversize shoes, when a woman in the next chair said something that sent a charge through both women.
“One of us hears the woman say ‘case by case basis,’ ” Church said. “And that’s the language of the executive order — they’re obviously clinging to the idea that their loved one is going to be let in on a case by case basis.”
The women were waiting for relatives who were flying back to MIT, they said. The flight had landed more than half an hour ago and they still hadn’t emerged.
“That’s when we realized that there were some people being detained,” Yountz said. “Everything just changed in a heartbeat.”
Rodrigo Saavedra bounced toward Logan with his brother, Carlos, and another protester in a white 1998 Toyota 4Runner a little after 6 p.m.
“There are certain moments that we call trigger events that can spark the public to do something and be called to action,” said Saavedra, an organizer for Cosecha, an organization named with the Spanish word for “harvest” that advocates for immigrants.
Saavedra had spent the afternoon working his iPhone and laptop, conspiring with a network of organizers. Carlos was typing just as furiously. The brothers had emigrated with their parents from Peru nearly two decades before.
At about 5:30 p.m., their flier had hit Facebook. The notice called for protesters to gather at Logan International Airport to “be witnesses and put pressure at every airport to fight the #MuslimBan!”
They left the car in long-term parking and hustled to Terminal E, where they joined 20 or so protesters already assembling. Within an hour, it was 40. Then 100. Then 300. Then more.
One by one, immigrants and refugees stepped forward to tell their stories. After each tale, the crowd sang an encouraging refrain: “Courage, my friend. You do not walk alone.”
At Logan, everything seemed to erupt at once.
The protest swelled, and detainees began to trickle out.
Lawyers and law students had arrived, and delivered cellphone chargers, water, and sandwiches to Church, Yountz, and others who were working to find a willing plaintiff out of the view of reporters.
One woman said her sister and brother-in-law were still inside. They were professors at UMass Dartmouth on their way home from a conference.
At around 7:30 p.m., Church called Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Segal had been among the several lawyers offering representation at Logan but had left to work on possible court papers.
“We have a plaintiff!”
Segal started getting the papers together.
“Somebody has to actually go and do the writing, so he took the lead in doing a lot of the drafting,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
But to have a court hearing, you need more than just a plaintiff.
A friend of Church’s found US Magistrate Judge Judith Dein’s cellphone number, and Church reached her at the Shubert Theatre, where a New York City dance company was performing the work of Jessica Lang.
“We need a hearing,” Church pleaded. Dein agreed.
It was about 8:30 p.m. She called Segal again: He had an hour to finish the complaint.
As Tootkaboni and Louhghalam waited deep inside Logan airport, Church and Yountz set out for court.
At 9:04, Walsh dashed off a tweet: “I’m on my way to Logan Airport to join the protest against President Trump’s Muslim ban.”
Driven by his security detail, Walsh arrived at 9:27 p.m. The chants of 800 to 1,000 protesters quieted as a woman handed Walsh a red megaphone.
“Thank you for standing up for democracy!” Walsh shouted as a stream of passengers disembarked with rolling suitcases.
This was the scene Tootkaboni and Louhghalam emerged onto when they were finally released, about four hours after they’d been stopped. Their stay had not been unpleasant, Tootkaboni said. The people who had interviewed them had been “very, very professional and unexpectedly kind and nice,” he said, and checked in every half-hour or so to see if they needed water or a trip to the restroom.
They were unaware of the chaos outside and, until they emerged, had no idea they were the plaintiffs on a remarkable legal pleading happening in the courthouse across the channel.
At the courthouse, lawyers showed up in droves. Some came from formal events, wearing cocktail dresses and designer shawls, high heels and sleeveless numbers; one wore jeans.
Though the complaint was drafted, it hadn’t been filed — they had no docket number.
Church called her husband, Demissie, who was at home with a cocktail.
“I need you to sue the president of the United States,” she said.
“OK,” he answered.
From his PACER account, he filed the complaint in the court’s online system.
A federal district court judge, Allison Burroughs, was summoned to hear the case along with Dein. The lawyers had rushed to the emergency hearing, but now they had to wait.
The ventilation system in the courthouse was turned off, and the courtrooms were sweltering. Someone checked the thermostat in the courtroom. It was 85 degrees.
Back at Logan, the last detainee was set to be released.
US Customs officials asked Walsh if he would be her escort because she was too nervous to walk through the crowd.
The mayor did not know where she was from, but he knew her world had been turned upside down.
“This woman was not a threat,” Walsh said. “She was not a threat to national security.”
After escorting the woman to a cab, Walsh sent a message to someone with whom he had been texting.
“The final woman got out,” Walsh wrote.
“Thank you,” Senior Imam Shaykh Yasir F. Fahmy of The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center wrote back. “God bless.”
Working together, the lawyers had divvied up the pleadings. They offered their case, and waited.
“There was a feeling of everybody coming together that was something I will never forget,” said Yountz.
“Those court clerks who came, the court officers, the marshals, they left their families, their houses, to open up the courthouse doors for the rule of law to prevail,” said Church.
Burroughs and Dein ruled at 1:51 a.m. Trump’s order was put on hold for seven days, with a hearing to come before the restraining order expires. Lawful refugees, visa holders, permanent residents, and others who would otherwise be allowed to enter the country if not for the executive order, would be allowed in.
“It’s very strong,” Yountz said of the ruling. “It’s more than we asked for.”
Boston appeared poised, at least temporarily, to be the port of entry for those legal travelers who feared being caught up in the new restrictions. A nationwide ruling issued earlier Saturday night in a New York courtroom was less extensive than the one affecting Logan.
It was 2:30 in the morning. The elevator filled with lawyers in formal wear and jeans, borrowed suits and too-big shoes. Only once the doors closed did they begin to cheer.