Protesters who successfully blocked immigrant detainees from reaching a Border Patrol processing facility in Murrieta earlier this week say they’re ready to do it again should federal immigration officials attempt a similar drop-off.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement have not said when more buses carrying undocumented immigrants may arrive at the facility for processing, but at a Murrieta town hall meeting on the issue Wednesday night, opponents said they were resolute.
Carol Schlaepfer, an activist from Pomona who helped block three buses Tuesday in Murrieta, said she and others would organize, hopefully in greater numbers, to do it all over again.
“We’re going to be there,” she vowed. “We’re going to do the same thing, and hopefully with greater numbers of people.”
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 ICE.
The arrivals had been anticipated for weeks, if not months, Border Patrol officials said.
The number of children and teenagers arriving alone from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is expected to reach up to 90,000 by the end of the year, along with a surge of families with children seeking safe passage into the U.S. Many immigrants say they are fleeing violence in their home countries.
Over the last six months, Border Patrol stations across the country have sent agents to Texas to help with patrols and process new arrivals, said Lombardo Amaya, a union representative for the Border Patrol in El Centro.
His station alone has sent dozens of agents there this year, he said. Crossings in the El Centro area aren’t as frequent as they were a decade ago, Amaya said, and are now being used to relieve the pressure from the busy Texas facilities.
But the dramatic standoff in Murrieta highlighted the current of angst over the influx and underscored the challenges the government may face as it moves to transfer immigrants away from border areas, where detention facilities are overcrowded.
At the town hall Wednesday night, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone criticized the national government, saying there was a “lack of political will to protect our borders,” adding that the issue was a federal responsibility. He publicly demanded that Congress take action to secure the border.
However, the buses that arrived at Murrieta on Tuesday weren’t the first and likely won’t be the last, Amaya said. Immigration officials said before Tuesday’s protests that buses were expected to arrive every 72 hours, but have since declined to elaborate.
Local community groups that want to help the undocumented arrivals, as well as those who oppose their presence, said they’re digging in for the long haul.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino said it’s making arrangements with community groups to connect the migrants with relatives and provide help. The diocese expects more to arrive Friday despite this week’s protests, said spokesman John Andrews.
Late Thursday, on the eve of protests scheduled for the July 4th holiday, Murrieta City Manager Rick Dudley appealed for calm, saying that city officials’ calls for activism earlier in the week had been misinterpreted.
“When Mayor Long expressed frustration with the federal government and recommended protest, he was suggesting that concerned citizens contact their U.S. representatives and the president to share their thoughts,” Dudley said in a statement.
Residents interpreted the statement as a call to active protest, Dudley said, resulting in the hundred-strong crowd that eventually turned away the buses.
Far from praising the protesters, Dudley said their actions had undermined the city’s original goal of objecting to federal immigration policy.
“This was not victory. It was a loss for the city of Murrieta, for the community that we live in and love,” Dudley said. “It made this extremely compassionate community look heartless and uncaring.”
Dudley urged residents to contact their elected officials rather than air their grievances on the street.
“The protests resulting from the incorrect interpretations of Mayor Long’s comments have given our community a black eye,” he said.
In addition to Dudley’s statement, Murrieta officials circulated a letter that Long prepared for President Obama.
“Over the past week, our community has faced a very large challenge due to the federal immigration policy,” the letter stated. It detailed the city’s objections to the transfer of immigrants to the Border Patrol facility there, as well as the protests that resulted.
“I understand that as a city, we do not have a role in immigration policies, but we are certainly being affected by it,” Long wrote. “To be clear, the lack of a dialogue between the president and Congress has damaged our community, and not only ours, but communities throughout the southwestern United States!”
Long urged Obama to reopen a dialogue with Congress and offered to meet with him in Washington, DC.
Staff writer James Barragan contributed to this report.