Westsiders swarm LAX to protest the Muslim Ban, blazing a path local leaders are following

By Joe Piasecki

Hundreds of demonstrators opposed to President Trump’s travel ban impacting immigrants and refugees packed LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal on Saturday evening, followed by thousands more (and about 10 counter-protesters) on Sunday afternoon
Photos by Maria Martin

When Gisella Ferreira learned of the massive demonstration forming at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal on Sunday, she felt morally compelled to participate.

The daughter of a Brazilian immigrant and owner of Global Dance Arts in Marina del Rey took heart in being among the thousands of Angelenos protesting President Donald Trump’s sudden order to ban asylum seekers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“Our studio is about diversity,” she said. “It was very, very powerful to see the crowd was so diverse — people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds there to support each other and say we’re not going to be witness to this injustice.”

The large number of demonstrators at LAX — hundreds on Saturday night, thousands on Sunday, and hundreds more on Monday and Tuesday evenings — marked the second consecutive weekend of protests against Trump since his inauguration.

And, once again, local elected leaders showed up in support of the demonstrators. Rep. Ted Lieu, who represents most of the Westside in the House of Representatives, Rep. Maxine Waters, whose district includes LAX, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Westside-serving L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer all went to LAX on Sunday to try to intercede on behalf of detainees and to encourage protesters to hold their ground.

“What you see now is a real populist movement, one that is kind and inspirational and really, really big,” said Lieu, who is perhaps Trump’s most vocal critic in Congress — to the degree that the conservative website brietbart.com has suggested Lieu, an active Air Force Reserves colonel, should be court martialed for disrespecting the president on Twitter).

“There’s a law of physics that also applies to politics: For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction; in this case people protesting Donald Trump’s bigoted and unconstitutional policies,” said Lieu, who applauded law enforcement for its even-keel response to the protests.

Along with last weekend’s massive Women’s March Los Angeles, Angelenos are showing unprecedented popular resistance to an incoming federal administration and there’s little to suggest that energy will dissipate, said Michael Genovese, president of the World Policy Institute think tank at Loyola Marymount University.

“The more outrageous people feel the president is being, the more they feel compelled to act,” Genovese said.

That’s true of Marcy Winograd, a Westside progressive organizer who teaches English at Venice High School. While demonstrating at LAX on Saturday she met Yadi Hashemi, an Iranian-American citizen and retired L.A. city employee who five years ago headed up efforts to resolve parking issues in Playa del Rey.

Hashemi wasn’t protesting; he was waiting. His brother, a green-card holding permanent resident of the U.S., was detained for more than eight hours of “extreme vetting” — basically a thorough grilling, Hashemi said — upon return from selling his home and closing out other personal affairs in Iran.

“There was a crowd of worried people there” waiting for detained relatives, said Hashemi, who opposed the Islamic fundamentalist takeover of Iran and sought asylum in the U.S. after the Iranian Revolution. At LAX, Hashemi sought help from ACLU attorneys inside the terminal and convinced others left waiting for detainees do the same.

Daliah Setareh, a senior attorney for Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles who works in Santa Monica, traveled to LAX on Sunday both to protest alongside Ferreira, her dance teacher, and to offer free legal aid if needed. Because customs officials wouldn’t let attorneys meet with detainees, she said, there was an overflow of lawyers offering help but not much they could actually do.

Beyond air travel, Trump’s travel ban also halts progress on refugees, torture survivors and victims of crimes seeking asylum in the U.S. Setareh currently represents an Iranian woman who “suffered extreme domestic violence” from her U.S.-citizen husband in Los Angeles. Setareh’s client has already been vetted to live in the U.S., but now her green card is on hold.

“That means she doesn’t have work authorization, doesn’t have any [legal] status and is now extremely fearful of deportation — a domestic violence survivor stranded
with nothing. That’s one case
of [the travel ban] affecting those who are most vulnerable,” said Setareh.

Tensions are also heightened among international students, immigrant students and, generally speaking, female students on the LMU campus, said Genovese. Like many other California universities, LMU’s president has issued a statement in support of impacted students regardless of legal status.

“We’re talking about populations who feel vulnerable, to various degrees, and here that’s a little more in your face than if you’re at home in Westchester sitting in front of the TV,” Genovese said.

The big question now is whether Democrats (though in the minority) will take a page from the Republican playbook under President Obama and become blanket obstructionists, particularly in the Senate.

“There’s a phrase that Democrats go to a gunfight with a knife. Republicans historically play tougher than Democrats,” Genovese said.

And it’s not that Trump is without support. The Republican voter base that helped put Trump in the White House continues to support Trump with greater intensity than analysis of national opinion polls tends to suggest.

“The president is doing literally what he said he would do during the campaign,” Genovese said.

The Westside’s voice in the House of Representatives, however, plans to refuse any cooperation with Trump short of major policy reversals — and changes in behavior.

“What I find most disturbing is he lies pathologically and orders his administration to do the same. Saying three to five million people voted illegally is a lie that undermines faith in democracy, and he knows it. The cyberattacks — we read the same reports, and I tell you the president is lying when he says it wasn’t Russia,” said Lieu, who has designated his capitol office an “Alternative Fact Free Zone.”

“After the election, I sent an email to supporters saying we should give Trump a chance to govern,” Lieu said. “Since November, he’s obliterated any chance he should get.”