Blumenfield Asks, "How Can This Happen in Our Country?"

Committee hearing reveals new details about impact of Immigration Executive Order on LAX and communities

LOS ANGELES – Following an intense committee hearing regarding the impact of President Trump’s executive order on immigration ("Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States") on LAX, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and members of the Innovation, Grants, Technology, Commerce, and Trade Committee expressed outrage and disbelief and affirmed the City of Los Angeles’s commitment to human rights and fair treatment of refugees and immigrants.  During the hearing, representatives of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the ACLU, and immigrant communities provided new insights into the experience of travelers detained during the period of January 27-February 5 while the Executive Order was in place and later stayed by federal judges.  

“What happens at LAX effects our economy and our reputation as a welcoming City that values its diversity and what happened to our visitors following the executive order severely damaged both,” said Blumenfield. “It is shameful and unacceptable.”

The experts that joined Blumenfield included Jennie Pasquarella, Director of Immigrant Rights for ACLU of California; Patrick M. Gannon, Deputy Executive Director (DED) of Security and Public Safety for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA); Chief David Maggard, Chief of Airport Police; and Sara, an Austrian-Iranian student in San Diego who had recently been detained at LAX.

Chief Maggard and Gannon offered insights into the events at LAX directly following the executive order. The committee and representatives from ACLU praised the Airport’s management of crowds and assistance provided to lawyers, families, and demonstrators. When asked about whether they had more information about the number of detainees affected Gannon said, “Saturday we were all asking the same questions and CBP’s office was closed.”

Although U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not answer the Chairman’s request for information about the total number of people detained or impacted by the order, ACLU lead attorney Pasquarella was able to provide some data. She noted that the executive order had a particular impact on Los Angeles and reported that 329 people contacted them for assistance at LAX, including 138 Iranians, and 92 from countries not on the Executive Order.  Of the 329, 150 were lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who should not have been detained, and 13 held “special immigrant visas” which are given to translators and others who have helped the US government or troops abroad.

The Committee welcomed the first-hand experience testimony of “Sara” who arrived at LAX on a flight from Vienna, Austria at 8:35pm on January 27.  A student visa holder, she was one of the first Iranian citizens affected by the travel ban. During her time as a detainee at LAX, she described an agonizing stay of 23 hours in uncomfortable, cold facilities with very little access to food or her shoes and personal belongings. During this time she was denied communication with family members or attorneys working on her behalf. Ultimately, she was coerced on a flight back to Vienna on Sunday. But with help from the ACLU, Sara’s visa was reinstated and she returned to LAX on Sunday February 5.

When discussing the treatment she received by Customs officers, she went into painful detail similar to that of a hardened criminal. “The officers gave me quick, sharp orders. They said take off your shawl, take off your jewelry, take off your shoe laces and put all those in a bag. They then escorted me to a small room and said ‘Ok, We are going to do a body search, put your hands on the walls and spread your legs.’”

Several members of the Los Angeles Iranian community also attended and shared their immigration stories and impact on their families. Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian diaspora in the world and they noted that no Iranian national or refugee has been implicated in a terrorist attack on US soil.

After listening to Sara’s testimony a visibly shocked Blumenfield asked, “How can this happen in our country?”

Blumenfield invited representatives from U.S Customs and Border Protection to testify, but they declined the opportunity.

At the end of the meeting, the committee adopted Blumenfield’s recommendations to request that LAWA work with CBP to ensure that any detainees at LAX are provided food, water, blankets, and access to basic legal rights; LAWA demand access to inspect the CBP controlled holding area; and that LAWA coordinate with the American Red Cross, or other appropriate NGOs to push for their access to detainees in limbo in areas where the City does not have jurisdiction- similar to the basic rights prisoners are afforded under the Geneva Convention.

 

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