Thousands protest at LAX, decrying Trump’s travel ban

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LAX became a front in the opposition to the new administration Sunday, as thousands of demonstrators converged on the airport to protest President Trump’s executive order limiting travel by immigrants and barring refugees.

By noon protesters filled the arrivals area of Tom Bradley International Terminal chanting “let them in now” and “refugees are welcome here.” As the crowd grew from several hundred to a few thousand, it spilled into the street and police closed the horseshoe roadway to all traffic.

The executive order President Trump signed on Friday suspended all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees. It temporarily barred those traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In Los Angeles, as in other cities, the order snared people with valid visas and green cards.

“It is a Muslim ban,” said Rep. Ted Lieu standing inside the international terminal. He thanked protesters for pushing back against Trump’s policies.

“You know, he ran on a campaign of bigotry, he made bigoted statements. Now that he’s taken bigoted actions I can only conclude that the American president is a bigot. It’s not proud that I say that, but we need to call it what it is and then get people to react and protest.”

Lieu said customs officials had told him “most — if not all — of the detainees who’ve been here since yesterday will be processed within 24 hours.”

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Family members are emotional as an Iraqi grandmother is released after being detained by federal officials at LAX for over 22 hours. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Adding to a sense of uncertainty, Customs and Border Protection officials did not give out information about how many travelers had been detained.

“Total chaos” was how Niels Frenzen, an immigration law professor at USC, described the scene. Frenzen and more than 50 other immigration attorneys had descended on the terminal to look for family members of immigrants affected by the travel ban. “The only information that comes out is when a person is released,” said Frenzen. “There is no clear indication that customs knows how to implement this order.”

During the protest, cheers and whistles would spread throughout the crowd in response to press reports about detainees being released.

By late Sunday afternoon, a string of detainees were released to their families. One elderly woman was reunited with her family after more than 24 hours of questioning. Her family said she flew from Iraq on a tourist visa for three months.

“I am so happy she’s here, this is my first time seeing her,” her granddaughter Esma Algaraawi told KCRW.

“She’s never traveled once in her life and it’s her first time coming to America. I just wish she didn’t have this experience.”

Jenny Hamel and Karen Foshay contributed to this report