Magazine article The New Yorker

Family Business

Magazine article The New Yorker

Family Business

Article excerpt

Family Business

Twenty years ago, when Michelle Gelernt was a rookie public defender, she would often meet her older brother, Lee, an A.C.L.U. attorney, at a Tribeca pub called Walker's. "We'd work till 2 A.M. and then come here," Michelle said one evening last week. They had a lot to catch up on. The Trump era, just eleven days old, had thrown the Gelernts into the highest-profile litigation of their careers. Michelle, who is now a federal defender, had spent Inauguration Day (a.k.a. the National Day of Patriotic Devotion) at Brooklyn's federal courthouse, advocating on behalf of Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, the extradited Mexican drug lord. A week later, in the same building, Lee, the deputy director of the A.C.L.U.'s Immigrants' Rights Project, argued for an emergency stay of Trump's "Muslim ban."

When the President's immigration order began circulating, at 5 P.M. the previous Friday, Lee and his colleagues started developing a strategy for visa holders and refugees who were stuck overseas. But at ten that night Lee got a text: a few Iraqis were being held at J.F.K. and threatened with deportation. "The Administration hadn't thought through the policy," Lee said. "They didn't know these two guys--one was an interpreter for the U.S. military!--were coming. It had to infuriate the military." The A.C.L.U. agreed to co-counsel the case. "I thought immediately that we should sue," Lee said. "Everyone stayed up all night, and we filed at 5:45 A.M."

He showed up at the courthouse a couple of hours later, with just enough notice to shave and put on a suit. Before the Honorable Ann Donnelly, he argued that Trump's order discriminated against his clients--the interpreter and another Iraqi--and merited an emergency stay. By then, thousands of protesters had flocked to J.F.K. Michelle, rushing to Brooklyn from a jail visit with El Chapo in Manhattan, said that she got into the packed courtroom only "because the court officers recognized me." After hearing from both sides, Judge Donnelly ruled against President Trump, preventing the government from deporting--"in any manner or by any means"--refugees, visa holders, and "other individuals" from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. …

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