By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
Heather Marinello Yountz, a 1996 graduate of Woodstock Union High School, found herself on the front lines in the contentious battle over President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 Executive Order which carried his controversial travel ban.
Yountz and Susan Church, a principal of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, immigration law firm Demissie & Church where Yountz is an associate, led the charge that produced the first federal court restraining order against Homeland Security’s enforcement of the Trump proclamation.
According to the president’s temporary Executive Order, as a measure to prevent future terrorist attacks, all refugees and anyone else traveling into the United States from seven specific countries – Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan – would be barred from doing so for at least 90 days. The majority populations of all seven countries are Muslims, leading to the sobriquet, “Muslim ban.” Trump had used the phrase multiple times during his successful presidential campaign.
No terrorist attacks in the United States have been executed by people from any of the seven targeted nations.
An Iranian couple, Arghavan Louhghalam and his wife, associate professors at UMass Dartmouth and who have lived in the U.S. legally for 10 years, were detained at Logan International Airport in Boston for over four hours the day after the president signed the travel ban.
Yountz and Church, alarmed by the implications of the Executive Order, were distributing lists of immigration attorneys to travelers and people waiting for detained arrivals at the airport when they heard about the unfortunate couple. Within hours they filed a suit in federal court against the president and had lined up two judges to hear the case late Saturday evening on Jan. 28.
Using the Loughalams as token plaintiffs the two attorneys were granted a restraining order stopping enforcement of the travel ban for at least one week while legality issues could be considered. The Louhghalams learned about their momentous case only when they were finally released – the attorneys were not allowed to see them during their detention.
At a second hearing the Church-Yountz legal coup was temporarily dissolved, as the administration clarified the Executive Order to exonerate legal residents from detention, too late for the Louhghalams but eliminating the basis for their claim. According to Yountz she and the Demissie & Church firm are still involved in the ongoing litigation, so she can’t comment on the short or long-term outcome. Nor can she discuss the possible compromise the administration has suggested, i.e., to apply the travel ban only to those people who have not been vetted in the past and are seeking to come to the U.S. for the first time.
The states of Washington and Minnesota have also sued to repeal the immigration ban, and have won at two federal court levels to date. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, an appeal hearing by telephone was to decide if the lower court’s stay of enforcement would remain intact, although the decision won’t be immediately known.
No matter which side wins, the issue may well go to the U. S. Supreme Court, which has an even number of judges at the moment, with the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia still empty.
Yountz is no stranger to activism. She’s worked as an asylum attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, a nonprofit organization providing free legal services in non-criminal matters, particularly immigration.
She traveled to Australia with Habitat for Humanity and set up campus chapters in universities in Australia and New Zealand. Later she helped found Youth United, a Habitat for Humanity group of young people raising funds for building homes to serve the needy.
Yountz also managed a multi-state AmeriCorps VISTA program for Habitat for Humanity.
Former state representative from Barnard Teo Zagar was a schoolmate of Yountz’s from the fifth grade through high school. They speak highly of each other. “I’m just glad there are people like Heather out there doing the hard work of defending American values against fear mongering and xenophobia,” Zagar said.