*** 2 p.m. ***
She came to the airport as a lawyer. She soon became a ringmaster, a one-stop welcome committee, legal representative and menu-planner.
Chanpone Sinlapasai ushered the TV news crews to one side, volunteer greeters to another. She lined bags of donations against a partition outside the arrivals gate. She tapped out messages on her cell phone, her fingernails the same shade of pale pink as her iPhone.
She looked up from her phone and waved her arms. Five Iraqi refugees had arrived. "This family has nobody," Sinlapasai told a crowd of 30 people waiting to greet the newcomers. "We are their family now." The Iraqis had spent the past three years in a Turkish refugee camp. Their flight had been delayed by President Donald Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries and all refugees. Refugees have settled in the United States since the end of World War II. Most came silently, rebuilding their war-torn lives with the help of a few religious nonprofits. Trump's executive order changed that.
And it changed Sinlapasai.
"Welcome," Sinlapasai told the bleary-eyed travelers. "We'll take care of you from now on, OK?" The Iraqi boys looked like other Portland middle schoolers in faded haircuts, tapered pants and plastic frame glasses. The father wore a white button down tucked into jeans. The mother's maroon headscarf was the only hint of the lives they led before.
Volunteers handed over chocolate, new Nike tennis shoes and bags of food. Two news crews stepped forward at the arrivals gate, microphones pointed.
"What were his concerns after President Trump put the travel ban into effect?" one anchor asked the Iraqis' interpreter. "Can you ask him what he wants to do in the U.S.?" The boys dropped their bags and blinked in disbelief. America, after all. "OK," Sinlapasai said. "It's been a long day for them. We're going to take them downstairs."
As a Catholic Charities van drove the Iraqis toward their new home, Sinlapasai reached into an oversized purse and dug out two zip-top plastic bags. Inside each was a wallet-sized, black-and-white portrait.
Sinlapasai was 4 when her family fled the Communist takeover of Lao. They crossed the Mekong River into Thailand and spent 18 months in a camp with open sewers and little food. Immigration officials shot the photographs just before Sinlapasai's family left Thailand.
For decades, the 41-year-old had kept the pictures hidden. After the executive order, she decided she needed to show them.
She held the photographs up for the volunteers to see.
"This is me," she said. "And this is my mother. This is why I do what I do."
*** 3 p.m. ***
Friends describe Sinlapasai as a 5-foot-tall tornado, an Energizer bunny and a ninja. Her long brown hair flows when she buzzes through the airport. Her smile is big and constant.
Sinlapasai grew up near California's Bay Area and moved to Oregon two decades ago to attend Lewis & Clark Law School. She spent a few years working at nonprofits then started her own firm, Marandas Sinlapasai, with a partner.
For years, friends begged Sinlapasai to join the Catholic Charities' airport greeting team.
Sinlapasai always said no. She was too busy with her firm, a small outfit that specializes in immigration cases. She had young lawyers to mentor and three children to raise. Sinlapasai offered to do paperwork or write grant applications, but every time the airport came up, Sinlapasai had an excuse.
After the Iraqis left, Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie reminded Sinlapasai of her reluctance.
"I told you, if you go once, it's going to be addicting," she said.
Sinlapasai smirked and checked her watch -- the same pink as her phone and nails. It was 3 p.m. She planned to meet a Sudanese woman arriving at 6 p.m. and a Bhutanese family coming at 8.
"Food?" she said.
She led the small group to the Bangkok XPress cart. A few airport workers nodded at Sinlapasai, recognizing the woman who seemed to spend as much time there as they did.
For much of February, she had set up a makeshift office in the food court. Her voice was loud and effusive, her table always covered in desserts.
At Bangkok XPress, Sinlapasai ordered and paid for everyone's food, a meal that included almost everything on the menu.
"We got three noodles, really?" Soneoulay-Gillespie said when the food appeared.
"We ate dirt growing up," Sinlapasai said. "Rice and dirt."
They spent the next few hours eating. They finished the noodles then refilled cups of pickled jalapenos four times.
Between bites, Sinlapasai worked the phones. A family coming in didn't have pillows. The Bhutanese people arriving that night needed groceries.
Sinlapasai cleared the table then plucked chocolates and steamed buns from her purse. The truth was even rice had been a luxury in the camp. Many days, she didn't eat. Once, her family split a single egg.
"Eat," she told the volunteers.
The group had polished off only a few chocolates before Sinlapasai went in search of more food. She drank a Thai iced tea, a coffee and an espresso. She bought cookies and half a dozen Blue Star donuts to share with the two volunteers who remained.
"Food is love," she said.
She spread the desserts out and eyed her phone again. She had been glued to the device since Trump passed the executive order. But her husband, Rick Okamura, had made her promise to turn it off that night after the airport.
Okamura worked as a lawyer, too. He also kept the house running while Sinlapasai logged 14-hour days at the office and the airport. He picked up the kids from school and cooked dinner. She could spend Friday night at the airport, he said, but he wanted to see her that weekend.
"He said, 'You've got to have one day where it's just the family," she said. "He's turning off the phone until Sunday. We're going to play (Settlers of) Catan for four hours. I told him people need to drop off clothes and donations and might need me."
She sighed. When she was a child, her parents told her the most important thing she could do was find a good husband. They had intended for her to be a housewife, someone who cooked and made a man happy. They were not pleased, she said, when she announced she was going to college.
"When I told my mom I was a lawyer, she was like, 'Why are you just reading books all the time?'" Sinlapasai said.
Her parents live with her in Southwest Portland, but Sinlapasai doesn't talk to them about what sorts of cases she works on. They are too disturbing, she said.
Her clients are almost always immigrants who've been victimized. That morning, Sinlapasai had gone into the office at 7 a.m. to meet with a sex trafficking victim. Before she left for the airport, Sinlapasai spent six hours talking to clients and reviewing files for child abuse and neglect cases.
"I deal with violent crime, the most vulnerable human trafficking cases," she said. "That's my day job."
It was her immigration law work that first sent her to the airport. Hours after Trump signed the first executive order, clients called to say their loved ones had been stopped in airports across the country. Sinlapasai worried immigrants flying into Portland with visas might face pushback, too.
Sinlapasai joined a group of lawyers who called themselves "the first responders." They spent the days after the executive order standing outside Portland's international arrivals gate, volunteering to help travelers from the seven banned countries.
Most made it through soon after landing, Sinlapasai said. Only an Iranian family sat waiting without word. The patriarch of their family, a legal U.S. resident, had flown back for a visit. His plane had landed, but he still hadn't shown up hours later.
"The wife came to us crying," Sinlapasai said. "The panic had set in."
Sinlapasai called Customs and Border protection officials. She stuttered with nervousness as she pressed for an answer for the family.
After three hours, the man emerged from secondary interrogation. He seemed shaken but insisted Portland workers had treated him fairly.
A week after Trump signed the order, a Seattle judge banned enforcement nationwide of the travel ban. Immigrants from the seven countries were free to travel to the United States again.
Sinlapasai figured she wasn't needed at the airport anymore.
Her friend, Soneoulay-Gillespie, told her she was. Most news crews had focused on the seven countries, the immigration piece of Trump's order. But the refugee program was still in jeopardy.
Trump had announced he would decrease the number of refugees the country would accept this year, allowing in only 50,000 instead of the 110,000 President Barack Obama had projected.
"There's nothing unconstitutional about that," explained Soneoulay-Gillespie, who runs Catholic Charities of Oregon's refugee resettlement program. The president decides each year how many applications to approve.
Trump's decrease meant budget cuts for Portland's resettlement agencies. Without as much federal aid, Soneoulay-Gillespie told Sinlapasai, Catholic Charities would have to lay off some workers.
The nonprofits wouldn't have enough money to help those who had already settled in Oregon. Because refugees, unlike immigrants, do not come with jobs, the nonprofits historically have paid to house and feed refugees their first few months in America. Catholic Charities needed volunteers to fill in the gaps, Soneoulay-Gillespie said.
That night, Sinlapasai pulled out the two photographs, the ones migration officials had taken of her and her mother before they flew to America.
"I know where these families have been," she said. "How they slept on dirt floors and ate nothing, how their only hope was to get someplace where they could sleep without fear of bombs going off or losing another family member."
She said she'd do it.
*** 6 p.m. ***
As the afternoon edged into night, Sinlapasai searched for updates on the next flight she planned to meet. A Sudanese woman was supposed to land soon.
Sinlapasai worried. The woman had been scheduled to arrive the night before. Sinlapasai had spent the day before in the food court waiting, but the woman never showed.
"Her plane keeps posting delays," Sinlapasai said. "She's been in airports for two days. Hopefully she makes it."
Catholic Charities workers tell Sinlapasai which flight numbers to watch, but Sinlapasai doesn't have phone numbers for the refugees coming to America.
At 6 p.m., she grabbed legal papers just in case then led two dozen people to the arrivals gate.
A dark, 6-foot-tall woman sped by the group. Sinlapasai recognized the white tag that all refugees wear and raced after her. She was the Sudanese woman they were there to greet.
"You walked so fast," Sinlapasai told her. "Where were you going?"
"I don't know," the woman said in English. "I see people going, so I go."
The woman, Adout Luwar, grew up in Abyei, an oil-rich area between North and South Sudan, a violent town between two violent countries. She applied for help in 2006. When it didn't come, she fled to Egypt in 2010. She waited in Cairo another six years, going before half a dozen government agencies for vetting.
Volunteers stepped up with bags of gifts.
"This is an um-brell-a," one woman said, enunciating each syllable. "You will need it."
Volunteers suggested a round of photographs. Luwar bent down and whispered to Sinlapasai that she hadn't showered.
"It's OK," Sinlapasai said. She hadn't showered either. "You're beautiful."
Luwar started to speak, but a woman and three boys interrupted. Each was holding a corgi puppy.
"Are you selling them?" Sinlapasai asked.
"Yeah," the woman said. "What are you doing?"
"She just flew here," Sinlapasai said, pointing to Luwar. "She's from Sudan."
"Hmm," the woman said. "Do they have corgis there?"
"Corgi?" Luwar asked, the word and everything else unfamiliar.
*** 7 p.m. ***
The crowd headed for the elevators to deliver Luwar to her car. Sinlapasai took the stairs. On the way up, she stopped to help a Latino man with his luggage. Afterward, she raced back down and skipped toward the food court.
Outside Bangkok XPress, an airport worker was cleaning the table Sinlapasai had left behind.
"Let us clean it," Sinlapasai said.
"Just give us a rag and some Clorox, we can do it," Soneoulay-Gillespie said.
"We don't use Clorox at the Portland Airport," the man said. "Let me ask you something. Do you work for this business?"
He pointed to the Bangkok XPress. Sinlapasai explained that she was a refugee and a lawyer helping people settle in the country.
The maintenance worker eyed her with suspicion. Plenty of refugees worked at the airport. He knew none who ran their own law firms.
He moved on to another table and Sinlapasai pulled out the wallet-sized photographs again. Hers showed a serious, 4-year-old child with a fresh haircut.
"I almost died in the camp," she said. "I had worms, malaria. It was the kindness of strangers, an American doctor, who saved me at the last minute."
In the photo, her tiny hands clutched a sign with her name and identification number written in chalk. The resettlement process had defined some of the most fundamental things about her. Government officials had assigned her a birthday -- May 5, the same one they gave many of her family members -- and accidentally given her a new name.
The officials didn't know how to spell Chan Peng Odomsouk, the name her parents had given her. So they approximated. She'd been Chanpone Sinlapasai ever since.
Her parents told her to accept the name and the birth date. It was best to assimilate, they said. Like many Lao elders, Sinlapasai's parents never described themselves as refugees. The word had too many bad connotations, suggested they were poor and vulnerable, rejects from their own countries.
Sinlapasai had never shied away from the word, but she hadn't proclaimed it either. The night Trump signed executive order, Sinlapasai watched news coverage of the travel ban from her Lake Oswego law office. She saw the stranded refugees on TV, and she remembered the way dirt tasted.
That night, for the first time, she posted the black-and-white portrait of her younger self on Facebook.
"Refugee from Laos," she wrote.
*** 8 p.m. ***
Sinlapasai stashed the photographs and worked the phones again. She needed someone to stop by Costco's ethnic foods section. Catholic Charities had found plenty of volunteers to come to the airport, but needed people to donate or shop for food familiar to the new arrivals.
"We ate dog food when we first came to America," she said. "My grandma was like, 'I'm going to get cereal for everybody.' She came back and said, 'I got the biggest bag.' It had a picture of a dog on it. That's what we were taught to do. When you get cereal, look for cartoons. In our countries, you don't go and buy food for your animals. None of us could read. We ate it."
She checked her watch: It was time to meet the Bhutanese family.
On her way to the gate, Sinlapasai stopped to buy a Coke, candy and a pickle. She needed one final sugar rush to push through.
About 75 people formed a semicircle outside the terminal. Some admitted they didn't know where Bhutan was. An Egyptian woman who had driven from the Coast to welcome strangers held a sign: "All Americans are immigrants."
Bhutanese ethnic minorities were pushed out of their home country in 1990, but the United States began accepting them less than a decade ago. The odds remain slim: Of 21 million refugees worldwide, only 1 percent make it out of camps.
The family of four coming that night had spent 25 years in a camp in Nepal, living on dirt long before even a distant hope existed.
They arrived just after 8 p.m. Sinlapasai's was the first face they saw. She cheered and led the volunteers in saying "Welcome to America" in unison.
The crowd squeezed together for a group portrait. The Bhutanese family stood in the center but only the mother smiled. The father and kids looked from camera to camera, stunned.
Sinlapasai stood back for a moment. Bhutan is, like Laos, an inland country in South Asia. She knew what their lives must have been like. The family owned little to nothing, but they arrived wearing nice clothes, red jackets and new floral shirts.
Sinlapasai smiled in recognition. Migration officials had given her family dress clothes for their journey 37 years ago. She thought of her mother, the way American cosmetology students had shown up in the camp just before her family left. The students permed her mother's hair, but the chemicals left her with more of a dark poof than curls.
Sinlapasai cheered and clapped, but she knew how scary the airport must be. For refugees, landing in the United States may be the best day of their life. It can also be among the most traumatizing. So much is new and inscrutable.
The day Sinlapasai's family flew from Thailand to Los Angeles, the flight attendants served hamburger. Sinlapasai cried in fear when she saw it. Her entire life, she had eaten only rice.
A pastor had sponsored her family, but when they arrived, he was not at the airport to greet them. No one was. Her family wandered the terminal looking for someone who spoke Thai or Lao. No one did.
"We were alone," she said.
She was proud of being a refugee but she avoided the airport pick-ups for so long because watching one reminded her of the traumatic experience, she said. She looked at the Bhutanese refugees, and she saw her mother, she saw herself.
Watching the Bhutanese family, Sinlapasai felt like crying. The executive order made her feel, again, rejected by a country.
The community had shown her otherwise. The refugees who came that night weren't alone. They had the crowd. And they had Sinlapasai.
Last week, President Donald Trump issued a new executive order again banning refugees from resettling in the United States for 120 days. Catholic Charities was forced to cut its budget and lay off staff. For the foreseeable future, Sinlapasai will not be meeting refugees at the airport.