Supporters, opponents of Murrieta-bound immigrant detainees dig in

Federal officials will appear at a town hall meeting in Murrieta this evening after buses carrying immigrant detainees were blocked by a wall of angry of protesters.

After anti-illegal immigration protesters in Murrieta successfully forced buses full of migrants to divert to San Diego for processing, groups of immigration advocates have quietly galvanized.

Among the supporters of the migrants is Tina Nicholas, who oversees Mercy ministries at Centerpoint Church in Murrieta.

“Even though you’re seeing on TV and the public so much outburst of anti-immigrant feelings,” she said, “I think there are a lot of people that want to respond and have compassionate hearts.”

Nicholas, who has lived in Murrieta for 25 years, has been working with local churches to coordinate relief for the migrants since she learned last week that they would be arriving in town.

Locals have been collecting bags of groceries, personal hygiene products and diapers in anticipation of the arrivals, she said.


As she watched the protests on the news Tuesday, she said, “My husband and I were just so saddened. We just did not believe people would not be more compassionate. We have so much here ... we can’t turn away from this.”

She said she’s been advocating on immigration issues for years but had never seen the issue hit so close to home. She said she’s reached out to border agents and to other local churches and organizations to offer help for the migrants.

Luz Gallegos of TODEC legal center, which offers services to local migrants and is based in nearby Perris, said area residents have been emailing, calling and leaving messages on Facebook to offer shelter, food and transportation for the migrants since itr was announced last week that they would be arriving in Murrieta.

“It’s overwhelming all the response from the community,” she said. “We are welcoming our migrants and it breaks our hearts that there is so much hate.”

Gallegos said she drove by the protests Tuesday but decided not to stop.

People “see the protests,” she said. “But they don’t see the goodness of people coming together across the Inland Empire.”

On Wednesday night, federal officials will join Murrieta city officials at a town hall at Murrieta Mesa High School to field questions from residents and address concerns.

On Tuesday, a convoy of three buses carrying 140 detainees was forced by protesters to turn away from the Border Patrol facility in Murrieta.

The detainees, many of them women and children from Central America, had recently crossed the border into Texas and had been flown to San Diego by the Department of Homeland Security.

The immigrants were to be processed at the Murrieta facility before being placed under the supervision of federal agents until they were united with family members throughout the country, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Another group is expected at the Murrieta facility Friday, a Border Patrol union official told the Press-Enterprise.

Anticipating that more buses may be en route, protesters showed up again Wednesday morning.

One of them was Skylar Faria of Murrieta, who said he came to the protest Tuesday after learning about it on Facebook. On Wednesday, he briefly stopped by the station but left minutes later.

He said he joined the protests to show his support for legal immigration.

“We have no idea who these people are,” he said. “There are a lot of medical costs [and] once the children become of age, then they’re in schools.”

He said he sympathizes with women and children who are coming to the United States.

“It’s just we need to have people do the right thing,” he said.

Burke Hinman, also of Murrieta, waited for about two hours to see if protests would materialize before leaving for work. He also took part in the protest Tuesday after hearing about it on the news and from neighbors.

“Why is the executive branch not cracking down and enforcing the laws that are on the books?” he asked.

He said he fears that immigrants arriving at the border are involved in gangs, bring drugs or are potential terrorists.

“I don’t think this city can afford the security that’s going to be necessary,” he said.

For Southern California news, follow @palomaesquivel.