More than two dozen Yemenis who were stranded in Africa by President Donald Trump's travel ban flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday, ending an ordeal that had kept them on hold for two weeks and for some even longer.
The group's flight landed at about 4:30 p.m. at Los Angeles International Airport after court orders allowed their travel from Djibouti by way of Turkey. The travelers and their attorney cleared customs about 90 minutes later to little fanfare and few greeters other than a handful of reporters and TV news cameras.
“I like America!” cheered Ahmed Abdallah, 49, as he passed through the arrivals area in the Tom Bradley International Terminal accompanied by his wife and 11-year-old son.
Abdallah, 49, had perhaps waited the longest in the group to enter the United States. His immigration petition was filed 19 years ago by his U.S. citizen father, who subsequently died, said Julie Ann Goldberg, the attorney who represented and traveled with the group. Abdallah’s sister then filed a new petition for him.
He had finally been granted a visa and was ready to come to the U.S. when the travel ban hit.
The State Department had claimed the Yemenis' visas were invalidated as part of Trump's temporary ban on travel from Yemen and six other majority Muslim countries. The order also barred visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, for three months and Syrians indefinitely.
Migrants have begun arriving in the U.S. after a federal judge in Seattle put Trump's executive order on hold nationwide. Trump administration lawyers have appealed that decision and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule this week.
Goldberg filed suit on behalf of 28 Yemeni citizens who had immigrant visas and got stranded in Djiboutit, a tiny east African nation. Her clients were all children, parents and spouses of U.S. citizens, she said.
Like many of those caught off guard by the hastily announced travel ban, the Yemenis were in limbo. They couldn't return to Yemen because it is engulfed in civil war and they were running out of money in Djibouti, which is expensive.
"They can't go back to Yemen, they would be killed," Goldberg told The Associated Press last week. "It's super frustrating."
Ghassan Bengabar, a U.S. citizen, also arrived at LAX with the group of Yemenis. He had flown to Djibouti to wait with his elderly mother, an immigrant fleeing the war who Bengabar has been sponsoring since 2014.
“The situation in Yemen is very dangerous,” Bengabar said. “So we’re happy.”
Goldberg said while the immigrants were happy to touch down, they remained worried until they made it through customs, where hundreds of other travelers were held up in the wake of the Trump executive order.
"When they come off the plane, that is when everyone is very nervous,” Goldberg said. “Because they don’t know. Are they going to be turned around? Are they going to be sent back home? Are their visas going to be accepted? And so, I don’t think the relief happens until you actually hit this ramp.”
Many of those who arrived last night were immigrants who had been added to the lawsuit, which began with the 28 plaintiffs bound for Los Angeles, but grew last week to 240 plaintiffs.
It was a last-minute scramble to get the immigrants onto flights while they were allowed to travel, Goldberg said, so it was a matter of getting them onto any U.S.-bound flight with a seat.
Some of the original plaintiffs headed for L.A. wound up on flights to New York; others who landed last night at LAX scrambled to get on connecting flights to other cities.
“People are racing to get in as quickly as possible,” Goldberg said. “It is very difficult to get airline tickets right now. Everybody is trying to get out of there.”
Goldberg said that while the 240 plaintiffs in her lawsuit have been allowed to travel, there are still hundreds of Yemenis in Djibouti whose visa appointments were canceled and have not been allowed to leave.
She plans to appear in court in Los Angeles on Friday to request an extension of the temporary order allowing Yemenis still in Djibouti to travel to the U.S.
Yemen has been in conflict since 2014 and many Yemenis have fled by boat across the Bab al-Mandab strait to Djibouti or other Horn of Africa countries.
A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, has been carrying out an air campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for nearly two years in Yemen.
This story has been updated.