A major segment of the loop road at Los Angeles International Airport was temporarily closed Sunday, as thousand of people protesting President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration actions snarled traffic and confronted a smaller number of counter-protesters.
Airport police worked to keep the two sides apart as “they scream at each other,” Los Angeles Airport police spokesman Tom Pedregon said.
Flight operations at LAX continued normally throughout the protests, airport officials said.
About 7:30 p.m. some airlines began reporting departure delays because flight crews and departing passengers were having trouble reaching the airline terminals, according to Los Angeles World Airports spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
The lower level roadway was closed on Sunday starting at 2 p.m., outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which sits between Terminal 3 and Terminal 4, Pedregon said. The number 4 lane and the outer curb area of the lower level roadway was reopened by 3 p.m., but airport police urged travelers to arrive early and plan on delays.
The inner curb lanes on the lower arrival level were temporarily blocked for vehicles in front of the Bradley Terminal as thousands of protesters denounced the federal travel ban on some Muslims and throngs of arriving passengers stood waiting on a lower loop that was devoid of traffic.
Airport officials were urging motorists to use the upper, Departure Level loop. But traffic on both levels was congested. The upper deck was at times a complete standstill, but portable signs outside the airport still directed motorists to use the upper deck for both departing and arriving passengers.
“The upper deck lanes suffered intermittent closures and re-openings all day because of people moving in and out of the street,” Pedregon told City News Service. “It’s been a dynamic traffic situation.”
As the day wore on hundreds of protesters, many of whom carried hand- made signs, gradually began to move away from the Tom Bradley terminal after a long day of protesting.
Three youths carrying a large banner showing flags of countries where people have been banned from coming into the U.S. received cheers of support as they marched down the empty roadway.
Some protesters sang “Amazing Grace,” as the entire unusual scene was overseen by six Los Angeles police officers.
“We’re here for you,” airport police Officer Hector Orellano told protesters. “We just want to make sure no one gets hurt and these people (caught in traffic) just want to get home to their families.”
At the traffic light next to terminal 1, airport trucks and barricades kept vehicles from going through into the lower terminal level. Finally, about 6 p.m., the inner lanes on the lower level, including the curb lane were reopened to traffic, Pedregon said.
In order to ease traffic congestion on the loop road, traffic headed to both the upper-departure and lower-arrival roadways was being diverted at World Way West — the shortcut between Terminal 2 to Terminal 5, Castles said.
Motorists trying to reach Terminal 3, the Tom Bradley International Terminal or Terminal 4 were being asked to drop off or pick up passengers outside Terminal 2 or Terminal 5, Castles added.
By 6:30 p.m., the crowd of protesters had shrunk considerably, Pedregon continued. Police, he added, were prepared to just wait them out.
“So far there have been no arrests or detainments by officers,” Pedregon said.
The Airport police had not received any information from federal agents regarding any travelers who were detained or turned away.
“Technically, they wouldn’t yet be in the country so that’s all a federal matter,” he said. “They don’t give us any information.”
At the heart of the matter was Trump’s Executive Order banning indefinitely all refugees from Syria entering the U.S. The order blocked all refugee admissions for 120 days, and also stopped all refugee and non-refugee entries from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria for 90 days.
The ban also applied to people with passports from more than one country including those not covered also those that are, green cards and student visas.
It did not apply to people from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. Political observers say these are all countries where Trump has business interests, but federal officials say these countries are also prominent U.S. allies.
However, at least one federal judge on the East Coast issued a temporary, nationwide order blocking the immigration actions. Two lawsuits seeking emergency stays were also filed Sunday in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer spent much of the night at the airport, seeking to meet with persons who were detained by federal agents as they arrived with valid visas or work permits. However, he was rebuffed by federal agents.
“There are residents of this city who have friends and relatives who have the right to return, Feuer told CNS. And the detainees are in many cases residents of the City of Los Angeles, and have loved ones here in this city, waiting for reunification.”
And, the city attorney said, the Trump order has spawned “meaningful disruption created by an unlawful action. Our airport’s operations are being disrupted.”
Meanwhile, the White House — faced with chaotic confusion in customs checkpoints and protest at airports — has apparently backed off its initial hardline stance.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on the NBC broadcast “Meet The Press” that all green card holders would not be prevented from entering the United States.
“As far as green card holders, moving forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Priebus said.
The protests at LAX actually began on Saturday. At least 300 people rallied against the executive order at LAX Saturday afternoon, Maria Elena Jauregui of the Service Employees International Union said.
Observers said the protests began as word spread about dozens of people being detained or turned away as friends and relatives came to meet them.
The emergency stay made it “a remarkable day,” according to American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “The courts can work.”
“Awaiting info on the detained,” immigration attorney Nicholas Mireles said in an email to CNS. “Only LPRs ( Legal Permanent Residents) have been released. No visa holders unfortunately.”
The ACLU reported seven people were detained at LAX under the executive order, SEIU representative Ester Lim said. The ACLU brought the class action lawsuit that led the federal court in New York to issue the emergency stay.
In addition to the airport protests, another protest promoted on social media drew about 60 demonstrators Saturday to the federal building at 300 N. Los Angeles St. There, protesters chanted: “No ban, no wall,” “Say it loud, say it clear. Immigrants are welcome here.”
And their signs read “We are all immigrants,” “Love Trumps hate. Don’t discriminate,” and “Muslim ban-un-American.”
“Los Angeles will always be a place of refuge, where the most vulnerable people fleeing war, or religious or political oppression, can find a safe and welcoming home,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Congress outlawed the banning of immigrants by nationality more than 50 years ago because we have long known it does not make us safer.”
–City News Service
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