People protest Donald Trump's travel ban from Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.  REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
People protest Donald Trump’s travel ban from Muslim majority countries at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

Customs and Border Protection agents who recently detained travelers at Los Angeles International Airport following President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order deprived some detainees of food and water, solicited bribes and confiscated people’s cell phones, a civil rights attorney told a City Council panel Tuesday.

Speaking during a hearing convened by the committee to review the local impacts of Trump’s order, Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights and a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said some detainees at LAX also reported being held for 24 hours or more in rooms without beds, and some were pressured into signing documents relinquishing their rights while being threatened with jail or permanent deportation.

One man, afraid to return to Iran, was forcibly carried onto a plane and placed there by customs agents, and a woman with a sick baby was not allowed to get the child baby food, she said.

A spokeswoman with the Customs and Border Patrol did not respond to a request to comment.

Pasquarella said the ACLU was contacted by 329 people who were detained at LAX after Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 27 halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Pasquarella’s comments to the committee were made in response to a council motion calling for a report from airport officials into how Trump’s order impacted LAX, which the city operates, although it does not have jurisdiction over the area controlled by Customs and Border Patrol.

Pasquarella said some of the detainees were coerced into signing documents relinquishing their immigration status. The detainees were provided a “false choice — either you sign this document and you can go home and there will be no consequence to you, or you don’t and we are going to deport you anyway and you have a lifetime ban from coming back to the United States.”

She added that others said they were threatened with prison if they did not sign, and that one woman said she was told she would be sent to prison, “and the only way she could get out is if she paid $160 to CBP agents, essentially that the CBP agents were bribing them.”

The committee also heard from a woman who only identified herself as Sara, who said she is an Iranian national with a valid student visa and was detained for 23 hours. She said she was deprived of food except for granola bars, applesauce, juice and water for long periods.

Sara also said a customs agent told her either she had to sign a document saying she was voluntarily leaving the country, or she would be forcibly removed and would be banned from returning for one to five years or longer.

“The way this was said was not like it was an option. It was just like either you will do it or we will force you, it was said in a very harsh way,” Sara said.

Sara reported she was eventually put on a plane for Vienna. She was not able to return until after a federal judge temporarily stopped the travel ban on Saturday.

“There have been a lot of dark times in our county’s history. But what you just described has to rank right up there among them,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said.

“For the full force of the United States government to do that, and for you to experience what you experienced, is not a country that I recognize.”

Krekorian added that “every detail was horrifying.”

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who chairs the committee, said he was “appalled” at Sara’s treatment and that it sounded like the situation at LAX was “much worse than I imagined.”

The committee added amendments to the motion, asking Los Angeles World Airports to look into helping provide detainees with food, water, blankets and access to lawyers in the future, and to work with CBP to establish a protocol for LAWA officials to inspect the holding areas. It also asked for the motion to engage the Red Cross to find out if it would have access to the customs area under international law.

–City News Service

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