By Corina Knoll
Hedab Tarifi, chairwoman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, listens as Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell speaks at a news conference at the center. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, also spoke. (Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles city leaders passionately decried President Trump’s travel ban Wednesday during a gathering at the Islamic Center of Southern California and called upon residents to show solidarity with the local Muslim community.
“We will resist any attempt from the Trump administration, or any other entity, that threatens the rights of any of us or the values we cherish the most,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who organized the event. "We must always lean against the darkness of ignorance and exclusion.”
Signed Friday, the executive order blocks travel from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days and suspends all refugee admissions to the U.S. for 120 days. The order also bars indefinitely the admission of Syrian refugees.
O’Farrell said he began reaching out to fellow leaders immediately after the order was announced, believing that they must quickly take a public and united stand against what is “anathema to human decency and basic civil rights.”
According to O’Farrell’s office, the Los Angeles metro area has about 161,000 residents born in the countries listed in the travel ban, by far the highest number in the nation.
“In the City of Angels, tolerance, inclusion and compassion are part of our DNA,” O’Farrell said. "We are a refuge of sorts — for immigrants from across the world and, like myself, migrants from other states. One can make a new life here, free of the constraints and sometimes oppression that may exist from where we came.”
The gathering came days after thousands rallied at Los Angeles International Airport as attorneys scrambled to file documents to free those detained. City Atty. Mike Feuer, who had been concerned that federal officials were not complying with a judicial order that prevented detainees from being deported, said earlier that he witnessed a “breathtaking violation of rights” at the airport.
He also was repeatedly denied access to federal detainees or an attorney who could discuss the situation, he said.
On Wednesday, Feuer announced that a team of lawyers in his office were “looking at every step we can effectively take to defend our values.”
“I feel so strongly that this moment right now may be the defining moment in our lives,” he added. “The real America needs to rise up and make itself heard.”
The chairwoman of the Islamic Center said the words of city leaders have given her hope, but that she still wakes up in fear.
"When our policymakers say Islam hates us … they paintbrush a whole faith,” Hedab Tarifi said. “It worries me that a war is being waged that has no foundation."
Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said he fields calls from people worried about traveling and being caught up in a nightmare.
He puts them in touch with legal help and encourages them to continue on with their plans.
“The problem is, when you scapegoat a whole community, you do not bring security to the American people, you only bring more fear and hysteria,” he said.
All community members are invited to a rally beginning at the Islamic Center scheduled for Feb. 19 that intends to "underscore the point of pluralism," he said.
He compared the fight against Trump’s order to the civil rights movement.
“This isn’t about fighting one person,” Garcetti said, “this is about standing up for joint values. … Everybody deserves to be at the lunch counter.”
City Controller Ron Galperin recalled how his father, who escaped Romania during the Holocaust, made his way through Turkey, Syria and Lebanon before landing at a British internment camp in Israel, which was then Palestine.
His father's plans to immigrate to the United States were hindered by restrictions during the Cold War. A U.S. senator heard of his plight and pushed legislation that allowed him to arrive in 1956.
Galperin, the first in his family to be born an American, said he feels a responsibility to make sure others have the same opportunity.
“We are brothers, we are sisters with one another, and we are, as a city, one."