When President Trump signed "the Muslim ban" into effect on Jan. 27, protests spontaneously erupted at airports across the country. They were the logical venue because the executive order indefinitely bars entry into the U.S. by Syrian refugees, temporarily bars entry by nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries and suspends all refugee applications.
So the chaotic implementation of the possibly unconstitutional policy played out inside airports, where travelers from those countries (including some permanent lawful residents and green card holders) were detained by Customs and Border Patrol agents as volunteer lawyers scrambled to put together habeas corpus petitions on their laptops using public Wi-Fi.
Amidst this scene were the two plaintiffs in this case: Colorado Springs residents Eric Verlo and Nazli McDonnell. They went to join about a thousand others at Denver International Airport the weekend after Trump issued the ban. According to their civil rights complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, while other protesters danced, sang and prayed in Jeppesen Terminal near the secure CPB screening area, the plaintiffs "simply stood with placards showing their distaste for the Executive Order and the man who executed it."
Police officers reportedly told the protesters they couldn't be there and suggested they move off-premise, six miles away to Tower Road (which, if you've ever been to DIA, you may recall is desolate prairie land.) They cited the airport's "Regulation 50" as reason.
Fox31's Emily Allen tweeted this photo of a leaflet notifying protesters of the regulation.
Protestors are being handed these pieces of paper. Organizers tell crowd to take down signs, and not to sing or police will step in #KDVRpic.twitter.com/5HDM9RpmrV
The latter half of the regulation, according to the complaint, reads that "In order to obtain a permit, an individual must 'complete a permit application and submit it during regular business hours, at least seven (7) days prior to the commencement of the activity for which the permit is sought[.]'"
Video shows Denver Police Department (DPD) commander Antonio Lopez telling an organizer they can't do anything that “could be construed as Free Speech” anywhere in the 50 square mile airport without a permit. At another point, he also tells a protester that holding a copy of the U.S. Constitution isn't allowed.
You can watch the interactions below:
Nobody was arrested that day. The next day, Verlo and McDonnell returned to DIA with their signs. Inside the terminal, they were allegedly threatened with arrest which, the complaint alleges, was a form of retaliatory punishment designed to chill future speech. The regulation cited above, they claim, is an unreasonable restriction of their First Amendment rights.
The complaint alleges that its the content of speech that's being policed: "Upon information and belief, no individual has been arrested, or threatened with arrest, for wearing a 'Make America Great Again' campaign hat [or] holding a sign welcoming home a member of our military [or] holding a sign and soliciting passengers for a limousine [or] discussing current affairs with another person without a permit within the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport."