On Friday, January 30, President Donald Trump sparked an ongoing series of high-intensity debates, legal hearings, and protests when he signed an executive order temporarily halting the entry of all refugees and banning the immigration of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. The order received a near immediate backlash in the form of weekend-long airport protests staged nationwide.
At Logan Airport, roughly 900 protesters — including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — displayed signs of solidarity with those affected by the ban. Hundreds of protesters entered Terminal E and met flight arrivals with cheers and helping hands. Joining the protesters of the ban were lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, as well as several immigrant advocacy organizations. Lawyers from both organizations acted as on-the-ground legal defenses for individuals and families landing at Terminal E who were having trouble gaining entry into the country.
The national situation became more chaotic when green-card holders or permanent residents and those holding U.S. visas were also detained and denied entry upon landing. As long as they were from one of the seven banned countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya — and not a U.S. citizen, they were, in the moment, disallowed. On top of this, several airline companies had begun barring would-be passengers from entering flights to the United States because of the sudden ban.
Carl Williams, a staff attorney at ACLU Massachusetts, arrived at Terminal E when the Logan Airport protest was just growing. From his perspective, he saw a mass of people who felt the founding ideals of America were being cast aside. “People were amped up. People were just mad,” Williams said.
At about 10 p.m. on the Saturday of the protest, Susan Church of the New England branch of the AILA — along with the ACLU — filed a federal court case arguing that the United States government should be restrained from its actions. Carl Williams and several of his colleagues were among a group of people who subsequently went from the airport straight to the local federal judge to hold a hearing which lasted until 2 a.m. that Sunday morning. This hearing resulted in a weeklong restraining order that, according to the ACLU, “prohibit[ed] the government from relying on the executive order to detain or remove anyone who is otherwise legally authorized to enter the U.S.”
Another hearing at the federal district court in Boston was held on Friday, February 3, where the ACLU and others pushed to extend the restraining order; the court denied the extension.
Legal opposition to the Trump administration’s executive order didn’t stop there, however. Throughout that weekend and into this past week, federal judges in several cities sent out similar orders. In New York, a federal judge granted emergency stay for citizens from the banned countries. This past Friday, a federal judge in Washington temporarily froze all the enforcement of the refugee and immigrant ban nationwide.
In response to the stay on the ban, President Trump stated via tweet that he “just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system.”
A federal appeals court upheld the freeze on the travel ban on Thursday.
The government issued an opposition to the federal courts. Carl Williams believes they have no case, saying that the travel ban is unconstitutional. “These people have been subjected no due process, so that’s a violation of the 14th Amendment,” Williams said. “[One of] the main arguments that the U.S. is going to make is that it’s moot, that no one’s being detained now, so what’s there to worry about? Were talking about future harm. If this order stays in place, those people are being harmed. And right now, people are being harmed.”
On Saturday, February 4, the Justice Department requested an immediate restoration to the travel ban, which the federal appeals court denied. On Tuesday, the appeals court held yet another hearing, this time between the U.S. government and Washington state. Both sides went through scrutinous questioning, with the constitutionality of the ban at the head of the debate. As of now, the Federal Court of Appeals has yet to make a decision on the hearing, meaning this saga is still up in the air.
“I don’t know where we’re at yet, but that question will be answered very shortly. It’s a very dramatic situation here,” Carl Williams says. “If [immigrants from the banned countries] don’t get let in, that would be startling, terrifying, for that person, for that family, and for what it means for the world and history.”