"We're here because we're horrified by what appears to be a constitutional crisis.”
Prayer at LAX
Most know Los Angeles International Airport as a headache-inducing maze they’d like to avoid at all costs. But on Sunday, thousands willingly gathered at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal to denounce Donald Trump’s most recent executive order to temporarily ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Additionally, the order bans refugees from entering the country for the next 120 days—banning Syrian refugees indefinitely—during which time the Trump administration insists it will sort out the kinks of its “extreme vetting” process.
Almost immediately, the order caused chaos and confusion at several international airports across the United States. Reports surfaced of border patrol officers detaining green card holders returning to the U.S.—a group of people Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said would be permitted to enter on a “case-by-case basis.” While most can agree that vetting incoming refugees is important for national security and some stretch that logic to justify banning them, the fact remains that legal residents have been caught in the frenzy to enforce the order. As any international student knows, obtaining a green card is no easy feat. And for refugees, finding placement in the United States can take between 18 months to two years in addition to thorough vetting—a grueling process Trump essentially deemed meaningless with a scribble of his pen.
As an immigrant himself, Mauricio Garrido understands the necessity of defending the rights of all Americans. As we stood at the edge of a massive LAX parking garage overlooking the protesters congregated below, he said, “I came here when I was three years old and I’ve been seeing this my whole life. Standing in solidarity with people is good." Fellow Californian Jennifer Garcia said of the recent ban, "It’s very unfair for people who feel like they have safety here and are now uncertain whether they can come back to their home (or) come back to their family when they have nowhere else to go.” She stressed the importance of showing up in large numbers to support immigrants and refugees, adding, “It's going to keep on happening. I hope it keeps on happening."
While standing at the curb of the pickup lane in front of international arrivals, actress Carrie Brownstein handed me her extra RefuseFascism.org sign, telling me she was heading out soon and didn’t need it anymore. When I asked why she decided to come to the protest, she said, “We're here because we wanted to join our community in protest of the illegal and unconstitutional ban on Muslim immigrants. Instead of sitting at home on Twitter, we thought we'd come out.” Although demonstrators congregated outside of the international terminal for the most part, police assisted a march through the concourse about three hours after the protest began. Chanting “Let them in,” “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” and “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” men and women of all ages seemed determined to speak their piece while also keeping the peace. Some left cases of free water on the terminal’s concrete benches, while others handed out granola bars and created pathways for weary travelers with heavy baggage to pass through.
The crowd kept the energy up for several hours after originally arriving around one in the afternoon. Amongst the throng of concerned Angelenos, several lawyers sat inside the terminal holding signs offering free legal counsel to incoming immigrants. “We're here because we're horrified by what appears to be a constitutional crisis,” said Morgan Ricketts, a civil rights attorney from Pasadena who attended the protest with her colleagues. “We're here to show solidarity for people around the world who have the right to come home. Showing up has always been important, but it's all the more important with this administration because they're obsessed with their image.”
To be clear, refugees weren’t flooding into the country during Obama’s presidency. Though the Syrian Civil War has been raging since 2011, we admitted only 105 displaced Syrians in 2014 and fewer than 2,000 in 2015. This past year, the United States reached its goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees. That sounds like a lot until you consider the roughly 5 million Syrians seeking asylum and the 1.1 million who’ve found refuge in European countries so far.
By comparison, the U.S. government’s efforts have been a drop in the bucket. Viewing those numbers in the context of zero refugees instigating fatal terrorist attacks and legal, American citizens carrying out dozens should prove the irrationality of Trump’s order. Even defending caution in the name of 9/11 won’t get you very far when all of the terrorists involved came from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon—none of which are included in Trump’s travel ban. The numbers simply don’t add up.
As the sun set on LAX, demonstrators began filtering out of the airport in a calm procession. The rows of cars exiting the parking garages remained eerily silent as drivers paid their tickets, signaling drivers were forgoing useless honking in favor of reflection and discussion. This, perhaps, is the most telling behavioral shift one can witness in a place like Los Angeles. “Did you come for the protest?” a parking attendant asked as I handed him my ticket. I told him I had, to which he said, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
By late Sunday night, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had released every detainee at LAX. While this is no doubt a promising sign, there is still much work to do. We can’t make the mistake of praising Trump for backing down from his campaign promises to ban Muslims outright. While you won’t find the words “Muslim ban” anywhere in the executive order, banning travel from predominantly Muslim countries effectively means the same thing. Despite Trump’s strategic attempts to frighten and divide, Americans continue to prove we are stronger when we align on a common belief in basic human rights. Facing uncertain times, the largest priority may be to confirm this reality, as terrifying as that sounds. The unity protesters displayed at LAX on Sunday reflects a sense of shared values, but also shared panic. Moving forward, we have to document reality and be steadfast in defending it.