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At SFO, protesters cheer as detained traveler is released

In an impassioned response to President Trump’s ban on refugees, about 700 outraged Bay Area residents descended on San Francisco International Airport on Saturday to protest the controversial executive order that left many refugees detained at airports nationwide.

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And most stayed late enough into the night to cheer and applaud when, hours after he had landed, one of the detainees was released.

Niloofar Radgoudarzi, right. hugs her father, Mehdi Rad, after he was detained for a few hours and released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials denied they were holding any travelers at SFO, Palo Alto lawyer Susie Hwang said she knew of three visitors from Iran — a 30-year-old man and an elderly couple — who were detained Saturday after their flights.

“Their families were picking them up” (at SFO), Hwang said. “They’re not allowed any contact and they’ve taken (the man’s) phone.”

The man is here on a legitimate fiancé visa, according to Hwang. The couple is here on tourist visas to visit their children.

Around 9:30 p.m., one of the detainees, Mehdi Rad, was released — and the hundreds of supporters erupted in cheers. He had traveled from Iran. He gave no statement other than to say he’d been detained since 5:15 p.m., but his daughter, a UC-Davis student named Niloofar Radgoudarzi, thanked the crowd.

Most of the demonstrators had been at SFO for hours, both inside and outside the International Terminal, hoisting red, white and blue signs. One said, “Give us your huddled masses,” while others read, “We will resist Trump’s hate” and “Let them in.”

“I don’t know why they are scared of my faith,” said protester Marwa Ahmed of Santa Clara. “My faith is beautiful.”

For human rights lawyer Kathy Roberts, 46, it was about highlighting the plight of refugees, whom she called “some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

“I think it’s really important for people not to buy into the idea that refugees are a threat,” she said. “Refugees are people like Anne Frank, like all of the Jews that we turned away during the second World War, many of whom ended up being killed.”

A protester from San Carlos, Estelle Weyl, held aloft a poster that read, “Ban Trump not Muslims.”

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“I cant imagine how degrading it is to be a legal resident of the United States and be put into handcuffs and now allowed to go home,” she said.

No flight delays were caused by the demonstration, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.

There were some minor delays outside for drivers picking up arriving passengers, but those eased when crowds moved back inside the terminal.

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