For those detained at LAX under Trump's ban, hours of fear, chaos and hope

More demonstrations are planned at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday after a day of chaos, fear, protests and ultimately some relief over President Trump’s travel bans.

Trump's executive order suspends all refugee entries for 120 days. It also indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees and bars entry to the U.S. for 90 days for those traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

At least seven — and perhaps many more — people were caught in the new policy at LAX. They were detained for hours as an army of attorneys tried to free them. Attorneys created a makeshift office at Tom Bradley International Terminal to try to aid travelers who were being held by federal officials, setting up outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. 

Relatives of those being detained stood nervously throughout the terminal, desperate for any shred of information about the fate of their loved ones. On Saturday evening, Bayar Yousif had been trading text messages with his brother, Bessar, who had been detained since he landed at 4:30 p.m. 

“He doesn’t know if they will release him or if they will deport him,” Yousif said. 

The brothers immigrated to the U.S. from Iraqi Kurdistan with their parents in 2014 — five years after seeking refugee status — and settled in Fallbrook. All four of them have green cards, but Bessar had traveled to Kurdistan last week, where he got engaged. 

Just after 8 pm, Bayar's phone rang. It was his brother, though he didn't have an update on his status. 

“What can we do?” Bayar said. “We can’t do anything.” 

At about 10 p.m., 28-year-old Neda Daemi was released after being detained for 10 hours. The student, who holds a green card and had traveled to Iran five months ago, said she was held with approximately 40 other people, but praised federal authorities for treating them well.

Still, she was shocked to find immigration officials waiting for her when she landed at LAX.

“When I got here and they told me you can’t go in, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” she said.

Asked what she would say to President Trump, Daemi said she would implore him to "Just think of your own children. Would you do the same to your children? Muslims are good people."

By Sunday morning, more detainees were being released after judges stayed Trump’s order.

Among them was Marzieh Moosavizadeh, 75, who was greeted by her grandson, Siavosh Naji-Talakar. She had been detained since  arriving from Iran on Saturday. 

It remained unclear how many people had been detained. In addition to the seven detainees the ACLU said it was representing, the legal director of an Los Angeles-based immigrants rights group also told The Times as many as 50 Iranians had been detained on one flight. Representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency did not respond to requests for comment or provide a full tally of those being detained at California airports on Saturday. 

An Iranian woman whose citizenship swearing-in ceremony will take place in two weeks was among those detained at LAX on Saturday, according to Jordan Cummings, an immigration attorney. The woman has held a green card for five years, Cummings said. 

Hundreds of people rallied at Tom Bradley International Terminal to protest the detentions, their chants echoing through the building as they waved candles and held signs denouncing Trump’s decision. 

“No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” they chanted.

Beverly Weise, 66, said she felt a moral obligation to protest on Saturday after she spent two weeks volunteering at Souda refugee camp in Greece, where 3,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia were sheltered.

“They’re running away from war, persecution — they can’t understand why we are so hostile,” she said. “All they want is a peaceful life.” 

The protesters at LAX erupted in cheers when news broke of a federal court decision staying portions of Trump’s order.

“I think it's wonderful,” Mohi Khairandish, a 52-year-old who immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 1976 and still has relatives there, said of the stay. “I'm hoping that the ban is proven unconstitutional in general, if necessary, at the Supreme Court because I think it's a very un-American ban.” 

Although the New York court decision may have marked a partial victory for opponents of the ban, the emergency stay came too late for some. Kristen Jackson, an attorney with Public Counsel, said attorneys tried to intervene after a 70-year-old Iranian man was held by federal authorities at LAX. His son is an American resident and the father was moving to the U.S., she said.

Jackson and other attorneys filed court papers to try to stop the man’s removal, but he was put on an airplane back to Iran, she said.

Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights for the ACLU in California, said on Saturday that the advocacy group had filed habeas petitions on behalf of the seven people being detained. Four of those are Iranian, and all hold green cards or U.S. visas, she said.

Pasquarella said Trump’s rush to enact the executive order has exposed countless people to potentially illegal detentions.

“I would say it has been done without regard to the legality of it. Green-card holders are not only being detained, but they’re being turned around and deported to the country that they came from. It is unlawful,” she said. “Certainly the discriminatory nature of the executive order, we think, is unlawful.”

8:20 a.m.: This story was updated with additional comments and details from attorneys.

This article was first published at 7:50 a.m. 

 

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