At Logan airport, a weekend of relief after a week of chaos
Azi Torkamani was skeptical when she heard that a federal court order in Massachusetts had temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s 90-day ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.
Torkamani’s mother, 67-year-old Ehteram Alian, was halfway from Iran to Washington, DC, when Trump’s order stranded her in the Istanbul airport for 14 hours. “It was the worst day of my life,” Alian said in Persian as Torkamani translated.
Making things more difficult, Torkamani is 38 weeks pregnant with her first child and says she needs her mom to help with the baby while she works long shifts as a resident physician. So Torkamani and her husband decided to try another route—this time, to Boston.
It was a risk. Torkamani worried that her mom would get stranded again along her Tehran-Frankfurt-Boston route or be detained and questioned once she landed at Logan. And there was always the chance Torkamani could go into labor on the six-hour drive from her home in Syracuse, New York. But as the family embraced on Saturday afternoon for the first time in a year, Alian smiled broadly.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I’m so, so happy.”
Hundreds of formerly banned travelers just like Alian streamed into Logan over the weekend, desperate to see family members or to start a new life in the United States after days left wondering if they’d get in before their travel documents expired.
At a table piled high with paperwork, poster boards, and donated sweets, volunteer lawyers spoke with family members to make sure their relatives got through customs and border officials honored court orders. Meanwhile, family members greeted their relatives with bouquets of flowers as strangers cheered loudly and held welcome signs.
It was all a relief after significant uncertainty. Trump signed the sweeping executive order late in the day on Jan 27. The following night, as thousands protested at airports nationwide, a federal judge in Brooklyn handed down a nationwide stay blocking US Customs and Border Protection from using the order to deport anyone. Meanwhile, at a dramatic all-night hearing in a sweltering courtroom in Boston, two federal judges signed a seven-day stay preventing both detentions and deportations.
Despite these orders, many airlines didn’t let passengers from the banned countries board flights to the US until the second day of February, when Lufthansa announced that it would let affected travelers on Boston-bound planes. As news spread, people stranded by the travel ban began flooding into Logan. The following day, however, a judge declined to extend the Massachusetts stay.
For a few hours, it looked like lawyers and families would spend the weekend desperately trying to get their relatives through Logan before the order expired and the gates slammed back shut. But Friday night, a federal judge in Seattle issued a nationwide stay that blocks much of Trump’s executive order until further notice.
Susan Church, an immigration lawyer with the Boston firm Demissie & Church, argued for the stay in the Mass case and has been at Logan throughout the past week. At the airport on Saturday, she said the Seattle court order came as a relief after the Massachusetts order was set to expire.
“I know I’m going to get all my people in, and I don’t have to worry about getting everybody in ’til Sunday night,” she said. “For these people, I think, the feeling’s pretty much the same—a feeling of terror being abated and fear being reduced and joy at being reunited with their family members.”
That joy was very real for Parnaz Laknahour, who traveled to Logan from Tehran through Frankfurt, Germany, on an immigrant visa Saturday. The 35-year-old landscape architecture student has lived alone in Tehran for the past 16 years after visa problems kept her from joining the rest of her family, who immigrated to Phoenix, Arizona, and are now US citizens.
In Tehran, Laknahour says officials told her and the other passengers boarding her flight that they would be turned back if they tried to enter the United States. Even on the flight into Boston, she says, the Iranians onboard worried they would be detained and sent back.
“We were not happy or excited, because we would only believe when we were here, now, here talking to you,” she said. “None of us would believe we would get past the gates. None of us.”
At points during the week, there were scattered reports of customs agents detaining travelers despite court orders not to—especially at Washington Dulles International, near Washington, DC. But lawyers at Logan said that customs officers in Boston seem to be complying with the latest court order.
Still, the legal battles aren’t over. Late Saturday night, an appeals court denied the Trump administration’s request to reinstate the travel ban, but the court is still considering another request from the administration. Different federal court districts could wind up with split decisions on the executive order, experts say, and the final word may come down to the Supreme Court.
For now, lawyers say, it’s wait and see.
“People who have spoken to me, they’re nervous,” said Stefanie Fisher, an immigration lawyer who was volunteering at the airport on Saturday. “They’re willing to pay thousands of dollars for tickets that might get their relatives in. They feel the future is uncertain. And they’re doing everything in their power to reunify their families.”
Torkamani wants to name her baby Liam because it’s an international name common to several different cultures—Persian, Arab, American, Irish, and German. She’s overjoyed that her mom made it to the US in time to see her grandchild born. But she also says she’s worried about others who may not be as lucky.
“We Iranians are working really hard to be able to get into this country as the best country in the world,” she said. “But after coming here, if you see these things are happening, you can’t believe you’re in the United States.”
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.