The meeting in the small New Mexico town of Artesia was loud, volatile and emotional, and the number of people in attendance set an all-time record for a community face-off, officials said.
The issue was whether the oil and farming community of 20,000 was going to protest the arrival of underage immigrants, who had entered the country illegally, at a federal facility there.
In the end, Artesia Mayor Phil Burch said Wednesday that the town would not raise picket signs to protest the move.
They didn’t like it, he stressed, but they would not fight it.
“The meeting we had last night was very respectful, even though it was an emotional night,” he told the Los Angeles Times of Tuesday night's meeting. “I don’t expect any protests from our residents.”
He said 192 teenage migrants who have passed north across the U.S. border in recent weeks were being held in a facility in town normally used to train about 80 state and federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“That facility was built as a training center and we don’t think it’s an appropriate use to house detainees there,” Burch said. “It’s not what it’s there for.”
Burch said he has met with U.S. Homeland Security officials, who told them it wasn’t their wish to use the facility for the detainees, but that they had no choice. “They were told to get the facility ready.”
More than 350 residents met Tuesday night in a recreational center in town. There were no arrests and most of the meeting was orderly.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in Artesia,” Burch said of the town, located about 240 miles south of Albuquerque. “Then again, we don’t normally have emotional issues like this.”
Burch said the town would do its part in an emerging national issue.
“We’ve been told this is a temporary solution,” he said. “We don’t like it; we’d prefer they not bring these people here. But we’ll do our part to support the government.”
“But if outside groups bring in protesters, we can’t help that.”
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