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Immigration Lawyer and Change Agent

When two UMass Dartmouth professors from Iran were detained at Logan Airport following President Trump’s Executive Order in 2017, commonly referred to as the “Muslim ban”, Susan Church ’91, a Boston-based immigration lawyer, saved the day. She was the lead attorney who won an order that released the faculty members. When an asylum-seeking mother from Guatemala was released from custody without her daughter, she turned to Church, who was able to reunite the family within days.

Church will speak about immigration issues as one of five panelists at the UMass Amherst event, Immigration Reform: How Did We Get Here? on March 26 from 6–8 p.m. at the University of Massachusetts Club in Boston.

For Church, the law is a tool for change and a way to create a just society without discrimination and federal policies that break up families seeking a better life.

Long before the Executive Order in January 2017 and the 2018 separation of families at the border, Church was specializing in immigration and criminal defense cases. She says she found her calling at UMass Amherst. “I learned how powerful the law is,” she recalls. She majored in management but it was what she learned through Labor Center courses that inspired her to become an agitator for change and to pursue a career in law. She earned her law degree in 1995 from Suffolk University Law School.

Church has had many victories, including her first asylum case in which an Ethiopian woman was granted sanctuary in the U.S. However, the battle against President Trump’s ban was like no other for raw emotions and high drama. The professors, Mazdak Pourabdollah Tootkaboni and Arghavan Louhghalam, a couple returning from a conference in Europe, are permanent residents and were unwitting victims in the chaos following the travel ban order. Time was of the essence. Church found a federal magistrate judge, who was at a ballet concert on a Saturday night, and agreed to hear the case that evening. Other court challenges were occurring across the country, but the restraining order won by Church was the most expansive in that it applied to many others and not just the plaintiffs. “I went to law school to be able to do something like this. It was impact litigation and a way of helping so many people,” says Church.

Those people Church seeks to help are often in a crisis. Church, herself a mother, says the family separation cases are full of heartache. “I cry so much during the family separation cases. It is so awful,” says Church. But the reunification in July, 2018 of Angelica Gonzalez-Garcia and her eight-year-old daughter was a moment of hugs and tears of joy.

Church says her immigration law clients are among the world’s strongest, dignified, and embattled people. They have many lessons to teach. “Nothing makes you more patriotic than being an immigration lawyer. Nothing makes you appreciate the rule of law than these immigration cases,” notes Church.

There are many facets of immigration. Join alumni and friends March 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the UMass Club in Bostonfor a thought-provoking discussion on Immigration Reform: How Did We Get Here?

Register to attend or look for the live stream on  

Clarification: The Executive Order referenced in this piece was the fifth to be issued in 2017. 


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