Amid raucous clashes that have disrupted the Border Patrol’s ability to process a wave of young Central American detainees and escalated the national debate over illegal immigration, protesters on both sides in Murrieta on Friday found some common ground: agreement that the U.S policy is in need of retooling.
Hundreds of people gathered on the road to the federal processing facility, just as they had Tuesday, anticipating another convoy of vehicles containing immigrants who had crossed the border in Texas. But by late afternoon there had been no repeat of the demonstration that blocked three busloads of immigrants, mostly women and children, from making it to the Border Patrol station.
Amplified by bullhorns and spelled out with hand-lettered signs, the sentiments of many from both factions who turned out Friday heaped blame on the federal government.
Salvador Chavez of Los Angeles — standing with immigration rights supporters on one side of Madison Avenue — said the dysfunctional way the U.S. deals with those who are in the country illegally was the overarching issue.
“Both sides agree with each other, but we have totally different beliefs” about how to solve the problem, he said.
Local resident William Isaacs, aligned with those on the other side of the road protesting the processing of immigrant detainees, said the system was broken.
“Somebody up there [in Washington, D.C.] needs to take the lead. But they just keep passing the buck,” Isaacs said.
The number of protesters swelled Friday, undaunted by the summer heat, the Fourth of July holiday and a police strategy that mostly kept the groups apart and away from the processing center.
In a reversal from earlier in the week, there were substantially more demonstrators on the immigration-rights side.
Authorities kept the road to the processing center clear and the protesters in check, although scuffles did break out. Murrieta police arrested five people for obstructing officers during an afternoon altercation. One other person had been arrested earlier in the day.
The group protesting the busing of immigrants to California waved American flags and chanted “U.S.A,” while across the street demonstrators responded with “Shame on you!”
On Friday evening, a charter plane carrying more immigrants arrived at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.
Three Homeland Security buses showed up a few minutes later, trailed by numerous law enforcement vehicles.
Federal officials had said earlier in the week that 140 immigrants detained while crossing the border into Texas would arrive Friday. But since the blockade by protesters Tuesday in Murrieta, officials have declined to provide information about the movement of the immigrants.
However, a law enforcement source said the latest arrivals were taken to a Border Patrol facility in San Ysidro for processing.
Tuesday’s blockade was a rowdy affair in which more than 100 people waving flags stood in front of police cars and federal vehicles to prevent the detainees from getting through. Some Murrieta residents expressed fear for their safety if the immigrants were released into the community.
That sentiment — coupled with the warmer welcome the detainees received in Texas — created an unsavory impression of this High Desert community of 105,000 along Interstate 15 in southern Riverside County.
Many sought to counter that characterization Friday.
“We are not racists or bigots,” said Murrieta resident William Satmary, who added that local governments don’t have the capacity to handle the new arrivals.
“If you love the people on the bus, you should support us because we’re stopping the government from putting them out on the streets,” he said. “This about resources, not race.”
The federal push for processing immigrants was putting too high a burden on cities such as Murrieta, said Betty Robinson, who had come from Orange County to join the protest.
“We are strained now,” she said. “It’s time for us to stand up for our veterans and our unemployed.”
On Thursday night, Murrieta City Manager Rick Dudley had issued a message to the community that called for greater civility from those who opposed the government’s approach to the mass influx of people who are in the country illegally.
Tuesday’s event, and the unflattering national news coverage, “was a loss for the city of Murrieta, for the community that we live in and love,” Dudley said.
Protester Elizabeth Thornton joined Friday’s demonstrations to support the detainees — but she added that she was not enamored with the federal approach to immigration.
“This is a necessary step for these people to be released,” she said. “We’re here to counter the overwhelming racism and xenophobia that we’ve seen here the last few days.”
Twitter: @mtthnsn @James_Barragan
Times staff writers Julie Cart in Los Angeles and Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.