They’ve already turned the buses away once, and they’re prepared to do it again.
Murrieta, a booming city in Southern California that has grown from only 2,000 residents in 1980 to over 100,000 residents today, has unwillingly become a microcosm of the nation’s struggle to process the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant minors streaming across the U.S. border.
On July 1, when U.S. officials sought to bus illegal immigrants into Murrieta for processing to relieve the overcrowded centers in Texas, a reported 200 to 300 Murrieta residents stood in the roadway and effectively blocked the buses from delivering their passengers. The buses were forced to turn around and drive to a Border Patrol station instead.
But the feds aren’t relenting, promising more buses will come and setting up police tape and barricades to keep the roads clear.
Many of the residents, however, are not surrendering so easily.
According to a report from KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, many protesters gave up their Independence Day celebrations, or brought their grills and hot dogs with them, to camp out on the bus route and stop the buses again.
“When the buses come, you are going to see Americans that are willing to throw themselves under the bus, that’s what you are going to see,” demonstrator Greg Allison told the station. “I don’t care if I lose a limb. Even if the buses get past me and I lose a limb, guess what? The rest of the country is going to take notice.”
Murrieta Mayor Alan Long, who encouraged the protests, though perhaps not the human blockades, told over 1,000 residents at a town hall meeting July 2, that like it or not, their town has a spotlight shining on them.
“We didn’t ask for this problem – it was just dumped at our doorstep,” said Long, according to a New York Times report. “This is a nationwide problem, and little Murrieta has taken the lead.”
At an earlier press conference, Long explained, “Murrieta expects our government to enforce our laws, including the deportation of illegal immigrants caught crossing our borders, not disperse them into our local communities.”
Murrieta is one of several cities whose facilities the federal government has tagged to receive migrants as officials seek to lessen the burden on the Texas border, the Los Angeles Times reports. Migrants will also be sent to a border patrol facility in El Centro, in neighboring Imperial County, as well as a center in New Mexico, which has also caused lawmakers there to protest.
Murrieta, however, became a focal point for the conflict, when protesters in the Riverside County city repelled the federal initiative, forcing the buses to drive to San Diego County instead.
At the town hall meeting, several residents had the opportunity to voice their diverse opinions on the hot-button issue.
“Why do we have to put them on a bus to Murrieta?” one man asked at the microphone. “Why can’t we just transport them on a bus to Tijuana, [Mexico]?”
Jeff Stone, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, told the audience he was concerned about communicable diseases that the migrants could be carrying, such as whooping cough, swine flu or tuberculosis, the New York Times reports.
“[President] Obama needs to enforce the border and stop this action of exploiting traumatized women and children for his own political gain,” Stone told the crowd. “We need the message to get to Guatemala not to come here because if you do you will be sent back as fast as you came.”
The Times reports dozens of pro-immigrant residents wearing Mexican soccer jerseys also showed up at the meeting, some holding signs proclaiming, “We are not illegal, we are humans.”
“It doesn’t matter where a child is from,” Lupillo Rivera told the Los Angeles Times. “He deserves respect and help because he’s a child.
“How can a 5-year-old defend himself?” asked Rivera. “I don’t think we should push a child out of our country.”
Pro-immigration protester Elizabeth Thornton told the Los Angeles Times she’s dismayed by the tone of the debate so far.
“I’m not a fan of ICE,” she said. “But this is a necessary step for these people to be released. We’re here to counter the overwhelming racism and xenophobia that we’ve seen here the last few days.”
At the town hall meeting, however, Long refuted charges of racism. He pointed out his own mother and wife are Hispanic and invited his 86-year-old father-in-law to stand, then praised him for immigrating to the U.S. legally.
Tensions between the factions are also growing. Several news sources reported as many six people were arrested on July 4, as clashes between rival protesters, and clashes between police and protesters are heating up.
A fight between two women, for example, escalated and resulted in five arrests. One woman was arrested on suspicion of battery on an officer. The other four were arrested on suspicion of obstructing an officer in his investigation.
Earlier in the day, a person crossed the yellow tape that blocked protesters from the Border Patrol station entrance and was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and disobeying an officer.
Some pro-immigration, counter-protesters, according to a Breitbart report, have even taken to burning U.S. flags and tearing them to tatters, impaling the shredded banners on nearby fences.
One anti-illegal immigration activist told Breitbart pro-amnesty demonstrators called her a “f***ing whore” in Spanish and shouted, “F*** America!”
One thing protesters on both sides of the issue agree upon, KNBC reports, is that the facilities in Murrieta are not suited for an influx of immigrant children, and the federal government cannot hope to defuse the crisis at the border by simply shipping immigrants around the country.
City Councilman Rick Gibbs, who toured the Border Patrol facility where the immigrants are scheduled to be held, has reservations about the space.
“This is a jailhouse,” Gibbs told the Los Angeles Times. “This is not a hotel. It is a spartan facility.”
Gibbs also doubted whether the detainees would comply with the government requirement that they report back to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office within 15 days of their initial release.
“We’re going to dump a bunch of people at a bus station, hope they get somewhere in the United States of America, and somehow in 15 days, they are going to respond and come back?” he said. “Everybody knows that 95 percent of them are never going to return.”
Councilman Harry Ramos agreed.
“You would get fined if you dumped off a dog in the street here in Murrieta, but that’s what they are doing to people here,” he said, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
For now, federal officials have promised only that more buses will come, but the time of their expected arrival will not be made public.
And for now, the residents of Murrieta are ready for them.