LOS ANGELES—Thousands of protestors gathered in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX Sunday, January 29 in opposition to the Trump administration’s new policies regarding immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.
“The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution, a move Trump separately said was aimed at helping Christians in Syria. That led some legal experts to question whether the order was constitutional,” said Reuters.
The diverse group of protestors demonstrated both in and outside the terminal, on overpasses, and on adjacent parking structures. They chanted, waving an array of signs ranging from the humorous to the indignant, and at one point marched through the terminal. While traffic was blocked for a time, the demonstrators were peaceful with only two arrests being made.
The protest was one of many at airports across the country this past weekend. NPR reported that demonstrations took place at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., Chicago O’Hare international Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and Seattle Tacoma International Airport.
Army Veteran Jacob Kemper, who served twice in Iraq, waved a sign reading “I Fought Next To Muslims” in the terminal.
“A Muslim in my squad, his name is Muhammad Wareed, we still keep in touch, he’s from Sri Lanka, and he’s disgusted about what’s going on in America,” Kemper said. “I have a personal connection with somebody that’s Muslim. I’m not for religion in any sense, but I’m not for oppression at all.”
He went on to say that he didn’t believe the new immigration orders are related to 9/11, his belief that they’re racist, and called Trump a “buffoon.”
- As the protest grew throughout the day a large group of lawyers stood ready to help any detained travelers.
Navy veteran and civil litigation attorney Jim Pettis came to the airport to offer his services pro bono.
“I just want to uphold the Constitution,” Pettis said. “I’m part of a group of lawyers that is trying to help out in situations like this, so I just came down to see what I can do. Dropped off supplies, and I’m here to help if we need some habeus petitions.”
Pettis said he was hopeful that these protests would change the policy, but he was skeptical of Trump’s ability to recognize the errors in the law and expressed doubt as to whether he had read the Constitution. He cited this as a reason for supporting groups like the ACLU.
“The problem is I don’t think Donald Trump has the capacity to understand that his policy violates the Constitution, and he’s not surrounded by anyone who will tell him,” Pettis added.
“I’m a Muslim, I’m a Syrian, and I’m not a terrorist,” Kakaji said. “I just want to prove that. I want to make a point you know? I want to stand with the other American people here.”
Kakaji said he believes Trump is punishing all Syrians based on falsehoods and stereotypes.
“I’m a green card holder right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me next. I can’t leave the country right now,” Kakaji said. “I’m afraid right now to leave the country. I can’t see my brothers. They’re outside. I can’t see them, and they can’t come.”
He explained that his brothers are in Syria, Dubai, and Turkey respectively.
“We are labeled as a terrorist. As Muslims, as a Syrian, we are labeled to be terrorists right now. That’s not true,” Kakaji added.
Like Kakaji, Iranian exchange student Farzaneh Shabani is also affected by the new restrictions.
“I’m an international student here, and I’m uncertain of my future. I cannot go back to see my family. My husband here, he hasn’t met his family in five years. They got a U.S. Visa a month ago from the U.S. Embassy in Germany, and now they cannot come here anymore,” Shabani said. “It’s just a terrible situation for us.”
This wasn’t Shabani’s first protest. She demonstrated against the Iranian government six years ago. She was dismayed that she is again protesting in a country she came to “in hopes of a better life.”
Across the street from the main group of thousands of anti-Trump protestors a tiny counter protest was held. The small group mainly stayed in their own area surrounded by police.
One pro-Trump protestor in a red “Make America Great Again” hat did venture into the larger group. He loudly proclaimed his views with a bullhorn, and was met with mostly argumentation and mockery before disengaging.
Arthur Schaper, President of the Beach Cities Republicans, was one of the few counter demonstrators. He rejected the idea that Trump is bigoted, and cited several Trump supporters of different races he knows.
“I support Donald Trump. I do support the temporary ban. I support the big, beautiful wall along our southern border,” Schaper said.
He expressed displeasure with people he sees as “miseducated, uneducated, or on purpose being distortionary” about the new laws, which he states are not a Muslim ban. He claims these countries both have a pattern of terrorism domestically, and of people leaving and committing acts of terror. He said there isn’t a reason to fear people just because they’re from those countries.
“For example, Christians from Syria, Christians from Egypt. I’m not afraid of them,” Schaper said.
He did state that while he is not against individual Muslims, he does have objections to Islam.
“The ideology of Islam, it teaches violence and death to those who don’t submit. In Islam, you’re taught that there are countries where it’s either nations of submission to Islam, or nations of war,” Schaper said. “We have to be realistic. Now Muslims in general. They could be apostate. They may not really believe it. They may call themselves Muslim but not adhere to anything in the Koran.”
He said he agrees with what he claims former Muslims say.
“They love Muslims, so do I, but I am very much against Islam, and I’m very much aware and very concerned about the terrorist threats that we’ve seen” he said specifically citing Syria, Libya and Egypt as causes for concern. He also said he believes a Muslim is more likely to commit a terrorist attack than a non-Muslim, although he said he didn’t know exact percentages and it depended on their level of entrenchment “in the ideology.”
Another counter protestor, Robin Hvidston, supports Trump’s immigration stance. She believes the government should be more focused on aiding constituencies like the American homeless population.
“The people of the world need to stand up in their own countries,” Hvidston said. “We want the world to be a peaceful, wonderful place, and we need the citizens of the globe to stand up and fight in their home countries.”
When asked if she had ever been in a situation like a civil war, she stated that she was currently in one as she considered the opposing protests Sunday to be similar to war torn Syria.
In February 2016, the New York Times reported that the Syrian Center for Policy Research concluded that 470 thousand people died in the Syrian Civil War. The NY Times also reported a 14 year drop in life expectancy, and a loss of national wealth in the hundreds of billions. CNN, citing the United Nations, reported in 2014 that over 8,000 children had been killed in the conflict up to that point. The war has also seen the use of chemical weapons, air and artillery strikes against civilian areas, war crimes, and fierce urban combat.
John Yuasa was an anti-Trump protestor on Sunday. These are not the first turbulent times the retired lawyer and non-profit executive has seen. He was interned with his family during World War II do to their Japanese ancestry.
He said that he can see similarities with what happened to his family and what is happening now.
“Strong prejudices, and not an understanding of what citizenship really means,” Yuasa added.
Note: This story was moved to Point of View on Feb. 3.