SAN FRANCISCO - A noisy demonstration echoed through the International Terminal at San Francisco FO Wednesday, after a young Filipino activist was prevented from entering the U.S.
"We are really angry this happened, he's the kind of person who should be allowed to tell his story," said protest leader Rhonda Ramiro, of Bayan USA, an organization working for human rights in the Philippines. Ramiro met activist Jerome Aba, 25, during a fact-finding trip to Mindanao last year.
"He's sweet, he's an amazing youth leader," said Ramiro, "and he been an amazing advocate for peace-making and peace-building in a conflict zone."
Aba arrived in San Francisco from Manila Tuesday evening.
Supporters who helped arrange his trip were on hand to greet him, and offer rest and food during a 12-hour layover. But Aba never emerged from customs, and missed his connecting flight Wednesday morning to Washington, D.C.
"We waited until 3 in the morning, the airport was shutting down, we didn't know where he could be," said protest leader Terrence Valen, President of NAFCON, The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
"The Customs and Border Protection called one of our folks, and said we're detaining him, we're denying him entry and we're deporting him," sad Valen, "so we've been pressuring them all day."
bout 30 people kept up a boisterous series of chants outside the CBP door, which was locked, a hand-written "closed" sign scrawled on it.
The group shouted Aba's name, demanding he be freed, and his detention explained.
hey fear he was singled out because he would have been speaking at churches and universities during the coming weeks, and would have been criticizing the human rights record of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts President Trump as a big supporter.
"What other reason would they have to detain him?" posed Valen. "He had his visa granted to come in, he had his invitations, he had his flights booked, and he was able to leave the Philippines."
Customs and Border Protection issued a statement, saying that privacy law prevented disclosing details of Aba's case. But the agency insisted human rights activism is not a "determining factor" for admissibility.
The statement notes there more than 60 grounds to potentially deny someone entry, and that the burden of proof is on the applicant to overcome any and all of them.
"They're telling him it would do him no good to see a lawyer," said Ramiro, "but we disagree, he needs to have one."
Aba's supporters tried unsuccessfully to get an attorney to him, arguing he has never been to the U.S. and doesn't know the procedures.
The first stop on his travel itinerary was a faith-based conference on world peace in the nation's capitol.
Next Monday, he and other participants would have made the rounds of politicians in Congress.
Instead, he was booked on a return flight to Manila, leaving just past midnight Thursday.
"He told me, the agents told him he had no business on U.S. soil," said Rev. Sadie Stone, who works with NEFCON.
She managed to speak to Aba on the phone Wednesday evening, by getting the Philippine Consulate to place the call.
"He sounded so, so tired on the phone, because you know how it is getting off a long flight, 14 hours, and now he's been detained 24 hours," said Stone, "so he hasn't slept, and who knows what he's been fed, he's exhausted."
The raucous protest in the normally hushed terminal continued late Wednesday night.
Protestors were determined not to leave until they were certain that Aba had been sent home.
Sources told KTVU his visa had "glitches" and that he voluntarily withdrew it and agreed to leave.
But given the circumstances, it appears Aba had no other option.