Protesters block LAX traffic, face off with police as they rally against Trump's travel ban

Thousands of protesters converged on Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday to condemn President Trump’s travel restrictions as attorneys filed court papers on behalf of those who were detained at the airport.

Demonstrators shut down traffic in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and faced off with police in riot gear, chanting, “Let them in!” and “Love, not hate, makes America great.”

After protesters marched around the airport, disrupting traffic, police confined the crowd to the area in front of the Bradley terminal.

Then dozens of protesters sat down, blocking the airport's busy thoroughfare — World Way — and refused to leave until all detainees are released. Two lines of airport police officers with helmets and batons stood nearby.

At 10 p.m., two people were arrested for blocking the roadway, according to LAX police Officer Rob Pedregon. The two were cited and released.

Late Sunday, airport officials said police and demonstrators had brokered an agreement that allowed for upper and lower level roads to alternate being fully open for 30-minute periods. During each period, demonstrators could block one level for 15 minutes while the other level remained open.

Demonstrators dispersed and upper- and lower-level roadways were fully open, with traffic flowing normally, LAX officials said in a 12:30 a.m. statement.

”We’ll be monitoring social media for any events that may come up,” Pedregon said Monday morning.

Airport officials said the agreement protected protesters’ civil rights while allowing operations at one of the nation’s busiest airports to continue.

Motorist Rebekah Bergeron, 22, was sitting at the head of a line of cars blocked by the protesters. Though she said she didn't object to their demonstration, she also wanted to get home to Arizona.

"I have no problem if they want to protest this, but I just missed my flight," she said. "I just watched it take off."

Another driver, Launita Walker, 51, of Lancaster, said she also supported the protesters’ message but desperately needed to get to the home of her sick mother in the San Fernando Valley.

"I'm on their side all the way around but I need to get out of here," said a visibly exasperated Walker.

At one point, Assistant LAPD Chief Michel Moore used a megaphone to repeatedly ask the protesters to move to the sidewalk. He said he was not asking them to leave the airport but to simply clear the roadway in front of the Bradley terminal.

"We do not want to arrest you," he said.

Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights for the ACLU in California, said her advocacy group had filed habeas petitions on behalf of seven people who were detained at LAX on Saturday. Those seven were later released.

The ACLU filed an amended petition on Sunday asking a federal judge to order that all detainees obtain access to lawyers as well as phones. A judge could hear the petition on Monday or Tuesday.

Also Sunday, a federal judge issued an order instructing federal officials to transport an Iranian man back to the U.S. after he was deported from LAX the day before. The judge cited the “irreparable harm” the man could face as well as the likelihood that his deportation violated the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Pasquarella also said federal immigration officials have been urging some detainees to waive their applications for admission to the U.S., an allegation echoed by ACLU officials in other cities.

It was not clear what detainees were being threatened with, but Pasquarella suggested officials could threaten to deport detained individuals, which could have a long-term effect on their ability to reenter the U.S. at a later date. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency did not respond to requests for comment.

Lindsay Toczylowski, an attorney and the executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said employees with U.S. Customs and Border Protection are not answering questions from lawyers seeking to speak with detainees, including how many detainees there are at the airport.

One detainee relayed to the ACLU that at least 100 people were being held on Saturday evening, Pasquarella said. Other immigration attorneys have corroborated that information, but cautioned that it was extremely difficult to get a reliable estimate. A law enforcement source told The Times that 13 people had been detained at Terminal 2 on Saturday night, but each of them held a green card and was eventually released. The source could not provide detention figures for the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Jacob Kemper, a 35-year-old Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, said he was infuriated to think soldiers he fought alongside might be denied entry to the country.

"I really don't care about religion, but I really hate oppression," he said, holding a sign that read, "I Fought Next to Muslims." "That's the way America is going."

Nurse Jamie Shoemaker, 51, of Los Angeles stood at the entrance of the international terminal holding an American flag in one hand and carrying a sign that read, "Muslims are welcome here, racists and fascists are not."

She called Trump's order "un-American."

"This is not the country I want," she said. "This is not the country I grew up in."

Shay Soltani, a network engineer, fled the Iranian Revolution 40 years ago and still has family members in Iran. She doesn't know if she will be able to see them again.

As she and hundreds of others marched through the international terminal Sunday, she said she was horrified by Trump's order.

"I am so hurt by this," she said. "He is against freedom of speech and the Constitution and everything I believe in as an American."

She said if Trump's order stands and his wall is built, "what's the difference between us and Syria or Iran or any oppressive government?"

His actions, she said, erode the very ideals that attract refugees to the United States.

"Otherwise why come here?"

Trump’s executive order suspended refugee arrivals and banned entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. It indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees and bars entry to the U.S. for 90 days for those traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

On Saturday, after mass demonstrations across the country, a federal judge in New York ordered a halt to deportations of travelers who arrived at airports with valid visas to enter the U.S., saying that sending them back to the affected countries could cause them “irreparable harm.” But she did not rule on the legality of the order.

Rulings from the federal bench appear to have come too late for some.  

Marjan Vayghan of West Los Angeles said her uncle was deported from LAX on Saturday afternoon just before the American Civil Liberties Union arrived with paperwork to stop the deportations.

Ali Vayeghan arrived at 7:15 p.m. Friday from Tehran. He was going to stay with Marjan Vayghan’s parents, then go to Indiana to join his wife, who arrived in the U.S. four months ahead of him, and his son.

“He hasn’t seen his son in 12 years,” Marjan Vayghan said.

But he never emerged from customs. She said he was put on a plane to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

The ACLU was trying to prevent his deportation but arrived with paperwork 45 minutes too late.

The family spoke to him by phone after he landed in Dubai, where he was waiting to be put on a flight to Tehran.

“We only have an hour and one minute,” Marjan Vayghan said by cellphone Sunday afternoon. “My family is just here staring at the clock.

“He’s literally crying in the airport in Dubai,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered authorities to transport Vayeghan back to the U.S. and admit him under the terms of his visa, which is set to expire Feb. 14.

U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee said in her order that Vayeghan had demonstrated “a strong likelihood of success in establishing that removal violates the Establishment Clause, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and his rights to Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”  

By the time the order came down, Vayeghan was on a plane bound for Tehran, and his family said they were uncertain what would happen next.

Anna Jaeal, 61, immigrated to the U.S. from Palestine 45 years ago. Wearing a sky blue hijab and holding a small sign that said, "Dump Trump," she said she believed others deserved the same opportunity.

"Injustice is growing in our country," said Jaeal, who lives in Anaheim. "This is clearly targeting a specific group of people."

Holding a sign that read, "Our Anne Frank Is a Syrian Child," Alexandra Noyes, 41, said her background as a Jewish woman made her decide to drive to the airport from Costa Mesa on Sunday morning.

"As a Jewish kid you are relentlessly trained to stand up for people who are being oppressed in the way that the Jews have been in the past," she said. "Around the time of the election, it became pretty clear that now is that time."

Roughly a dozen counter-protesters popped up on the street across from the Bradley terminal, holding signs that said, "X-treme Vetting" and "Keep Refugees Out," saying they were tired of the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. that they believe jeopardizes the safety of American citizens.

Chanell Temple, 63, of Los Angeles said she was sick of watching immigrants in the country illegally "steal" benefits and services from American citizens, specifically veterans and homeless persons who need aid.

"They are coming here and taking everything away," said Temple, a former bookkeeper who said she lost her job and healthcare after she was fired for an inability to speak Spanish.

Asked what she thought about reports of green card holders, who are legal residents of the U.S., being detained, she said those reports were "lies."

Raul Rodriguez Jr., the coordinator of a group called America First Latinos, said he was concerned about what he believes is a surge in crimes committed against Americans by immigrants in the country illegally.

"They are lawbreakers. They have violated federal law and they need to be deported."

Los Angeles police officers and airport officers have established two lines at the airport, seemingly controlling foot traffic and keeping people from entering the street in front of the international terminal.

A few officers could be seen wearing riot helmets, and most of the officers seemed to be situated near a group of pro-Trump demonstrators. The group had been surrounded by demonstrators protesting the detentions but police separated the groups.

Protesters have completely blocked the inner roadway on the lower level of the Bradley terminal, and smaller crowds have also popped up on the opposite side of the street as well as the adjacent parking structure and the roadway connecting the deck to the departure level.

There was an almost carnival atmosphere as some protesters marched around the lower level of LAX beating drums, blowing whistles and chanting, "No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all."

Carl Calkins ran down the road giving high-fives to travelers waiting for buses and taxis. The 37-year-old construction worker from Los Angeles even led some of the members of a UCLA group in an eight-clap as they waited curbside.

The march was serious for Calkins. He said he came in place of two friends, green card holders from Somalia and Sudan who said they were afraid of protesting in the wake of Trump's ban.

"Immigrants make this country great," he said.

Across the street from the terminal, a dozen or so men, women and children put their knees down on rolls of butcher paper for the Dhuhr prayer, the second of five daily prayers for Muslims.

Masih Fouladi, a lawyer and advocacy manager with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was heartened by the positive energy from the crowd.

“It is great to see so many people out in solidarity," he said.

Arus Marukyan stood at the door of the international terminal wearing a U.S. national team soccer jersey and holding a sign that read, "We are a nation of immigrants."

Marukyan, a graphic designer from Glendale, knows that personally. Her family came to the United States from Armenia when she was 3 years old.

She had a green card until she was 18.

When she arrived at the protest Sunday she overheard a family that had been detained by customs officials describing their ordeal. 

"I started to tear up," she said. "That easily could have been me."

She was heartened by the large turnout. Nearby, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) was leading the crowd in a chant: "No ban, no wall, you build it up we'll tear it down."

"I'll be here tomorrow if I need to," Marukyan said.

james.queally@latimes.com | @jamesqueallyLAT

javier.panzar@latimes.com | @jpanzar

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UPDATES:

Jan. 30, 5:27 a.m.: This story was updated with details of demonstrators dispersing.

10:20 p.m.: This story was updated with information that two people were arrested.

10:45 p.m.: This story was updated with information on the agreement brokered between protesters and police.

9:55 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information from immigration attorneys.

9:00 p.m.: This post was updated with new information from police.

7:00 p.m.: This story was updated with new information from police regarding demonstrators.

6:10 p.m.: This story was updated with new information about protesters blocking traffic at LAX.

4:30 p.m.: This story has been updated with details on a federal judge’s ruling ordering a deported Iranian man back to the U.S.

4:08 p.m.: This story has been updated with more comments from protesters.

3:15 p.m.: This story has been updated with more information about detainees and security at LAX. 

2:20 p.m.: This story has been updated with more comments from protesters.

1:35 p.m.: This story was updated with more information about demonstrators.

1:20 p.m.: This story was updated with information from the ACLU.

1 p.m.: This story was updated with more comments from demonstrators at LAX.

This story was originally published on Jan. 29 at 12:20 p.m.

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