A federal judge in New York issued a stay Saturday night on President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily suspended entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, resulting in detentions and chaos at airports around the country, including at Los Angeles International Airport.
The Associated Press reported that the judge's decision bars U.S. border agents from deporting anyone who arrived with a valid visa from the targeted countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The court order also covered those with approved refugee applications.
About 200 to 300 protesters who had gathered at LAX Saturday to demonstrate against the Trump order cheered on hearing news of the court decision. But immigration attorneys and family members were still waiting Saturday night to see if all those detained would be released.
At about 9:30 p.m., some of the protesters marched through the international terminal, chanting: "We won't go 'til you let them go" as arriving travelers, looking confused, walked by. Police then arrived to restore calm.
An attorney with the American Immigration Lawyers Association estimated about 40 people were detained at LAX. Others were reported held at the San Francisco International Airport, adding to reports of people being denied entry at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in the wake of the president's order.
“People with Canadian passports born in the named countries are being separated from their families, and they are not being given any information,” said Maggie Castillo, an immigration attorney and chair of AILA’s Southern California Chapter.
Castillo spoke with KPCC while en route to LAX, where she said U.S. officials at the airport had threatened an attorney with arrest who was at the scene attempting to speak with the travelers being held.
“These people have been vetted and they have been interviewed. They have been questioned by the consulates in various countries. Why would they not be allowed to enter?" Castillo asked. "They have visas and plane tickets with passports and pictures. Why would that not be enough?”
Greg Chen, AILA's advocacy director, said the group heard that arriving travelers at airports around the country had been denied entry. ”This has included people who are arriving with different kinds of visas, and not being able to enter,” he said.
A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to KPCC’s requests for details.
The president signed his executive action Friday temporarily halting travel from the seven countries and banning refugees while the government imposes stricter security screenings. Trump has pledged to stop "radical Islamic terrorists" from entering the country and pledged during his presidential campaign to impose "extreme vetting" of those arriving from countries with ties to terrorism.
The Trump order appeared to ensnarl legal permanent residents of the U.S., students and green card workers returning from the countries subject to the temporary ban.
Protesters who gathered at LAX Saturday afternoon held signs that read "Dump Trump" and "Resist." L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement urging Angelenos who were joining the protest to remain calm and act within the law so that the airport can continue to operate. But he also reiterated earlier comments that limiting immigrants does not make the country safer.
"Congress outlawed the banning of immigrants by nationality more than 50 years ago, because we have long known that it does not make us safer. It only fans the flames of hatred that those who wish us harm seek to spread," the mayor said.
Two more protests were planned, one at 11 a.m. and another at 1 p.m., both at LAX.
At the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, Fred Safe and Mojgan Rafiei waited for Rafiei's husband, 49-year-old Mohammed Ali Rafiei. He was due in several hours before and holds a green card authorizing him to work in the U.S. He was flying from Iran to Istanbul and then to L.A.
"I'm very scared. It is not fair that in the morning, you wake up and you realize you cannot come to your country," said Mojgan Rafiei, an Agoura Hills resident.
She said her husband was only gone two weeks: "My father is very sick; he [her husband] came to visit him, then he came back — then this happened."
Alireza Farmad, a U.S. citizen from Irvine, was waiting at the terminal as well. He had flown to Iran to visit family and was returning via Netherlands. With him were his mother, sister, and 11-month-old nephew. The child is a U.S. citizen, he said.
"When we got here, they separated us," he said. Officials asked his sister and mother to stay for an interview. "They told me you are a USC (U.S. citizen), you can go," Farmad said.
"I told them I want to stay with them because they are my family, but they told me I can't — go. And they let me go."
As the evening wore on, word spread that some of those detained were being released.
Among them was Neda Daemi, a 28-year-old green card holder who lives in Irvine. She had been visiting family in Iran and was returning to L.A. when immigration agents stopped her. Daemi was held for 10 hours before she was let go.
Daemi said was questioned by agents about a number of topics. "My name, why did I go back to Iran, and [was] I planning to go back to Iran." She said the agents told her she should remain in the U.S. and shouldn't go back to Iran until she got her passport because she would be detained every time.
"So I can't go back to visit my parents any more? That's not fair," she said.
At Kennedy Airport in New York, refugees were being detained as legal advocates scrambled to seek their release, The New York Times reported Saturday.
AP reported even legal permanent residents were caught up in the fallout, with many travelers left uncertain about how long they might be kept from entering the United States.
Akram Abushashar, an attorney in Anaheim with Syrian clients, told KPCC that some fear they might not be allowed to enter the country.
"I know they are not allowing anyone to enter the U.S. on a visitor visa, and they are giving a hard time for people even granted a visa as asylees," he said, referring to those seeking asylum.
Another of Abushashar's clients from Iraq had been planning a U.S.-bound flight.
"It looks like it might affect him. He doesn't know if he can board the plane or not," the attorney said.
At World Relief in Garden Grove, a church-based group that works to settle refugees, staff has been fielding calls about who will be swept up in the order's aftermath.
"A lot of clients have been calling me and asking, 'What is going to happening to my family?' The truth is no one knows," said Jose Serrano, World Relief's refugee program manager.
Serrano said one of the problems is immigration law is subject to interpretation and "if the [Customs and Border Protection] officer doesn't want to let you in, then he doesn't let you in."
The Urban Justice Center with local chapters at several Los Angeles colleges, put out a call for lawyers to help represent refugees arriving at airports. The group posted on its website that it had received hundreds of offers to help.
Meanwhile, calls have gone out on social media for translators to help attorneys seeking to help those held up at airports.
Bill Dalati, a Syrian refugee in Anaheim, told AP that Trump's order could keep his family separated.
"It's gonna affect me in a very negative way because I'm not going to be able to bring the rest of my family. I have brother in laws and my cousins still there, and we are communicating with them and they are dying," said Dalati.
Social media included tweets and posts from travelers and their relatives describing their predicament:
Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi has been banned from entry into the U.S. to attend the ceremony in Feb. This is heartbreaking and unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/2PrwZWyBdw— Tribeca (@Tribeca) January 28, 2017
KPCC's The Frame interviewed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Fahardi recently about his film.
This story has been updated.