MURRIETA, Calif. — Rumors had swirled among anti-immigration activists near a U.S. Border Patrol station in Southern California that the agency would try again to bus in some of the immigrants who have flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Instead, they got dueling anti- and pro-immigration rallies Friday.
The crowd of 200 outside the station in Murrieta waved signs and sometimes shouted at each other. One banner read: “Proud LEGAL American. It doesn’t work any other way.” Another countered: “Against illegal immigration? Great! Go back to Europe!”
Law-enforcement officers separated the two sides and contained them on one approach to the station, leaving open an approach from the opposite direction.
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It was not certain, however, that any buses would arrive Friday. As nightfall approached, none had. Because of security concerns, federal authorities have said they will not publicize immigrant transfers among Border Patrol facilities.
Six people were arrested, five for interfering with police who were investigating a fight and one for disorderly conduct, police said. One of the five was a woman who jumped on an officer’s back, but police did not give details on the actions of the rest.
The city became the latest flashpoint in the intensifying immigration debate this week when a crowd of protesters waving American flags on Tuesday blocked buses carrying women and children who were flown in from overwhelmed Texas facilities.
Federal authorities had hoped to process them at the station in Murrieta, about 55 miles north of downtown San Diego.
“This is a way of making our voices heard,” Steve Prime said at the Friday protest. “The government’s main job is to secure our borders and protect us — and they’re doing neither,” added Prime, of nearby Lake Elsinore.
Immigration supporters said the immigrants need to be treated as humans and that migrating to survive is not a crime. “We’re celebrating the Fourth of July and what a melting pot America is,” said Raquel Alvarado, a high-school history teacher and Murrieta resident who chalked up the fear of migrants in the city of roughly 106,000 to discrimination. “They don’t want to have their kids share the same classroom,” she said.
At a town-hall-style meeting that lasted more than four hours Wednesday night, residents voiced fears about an influx of migrants.
“What happens when they come here with diseases and can overrun our schools? How much is this costing us?” one resident, Jodie Howard, asked the mayor.
“How do you know they are really families and aren’t some kind of gang or drug cartel?” another person asked federal officials.
After a Border Patrol official explained that more buses would probably arrive in coming weeks as part of an attempt to relieve processing centers near the Texas border, one man took to the microphone and demanded to know: “Why do we have to put them on a bus to Murrieta? Why can’t we just transport them on a bus to Tijuana?”
The crowd applauded.
As federal officials have begun to send the thousands of migrants who have crossed the border illegally in recent months in the Rio Grande Valley to cities around the county, Murrieta is the only place that has turned them away.
The city’s mayor, Alan Long, became a hero to those seeking stronger immigration policies with his criticism of the federal government’s efforts to handle the influx of immigrants.
“We didn’t ask for this problem; it was just dumped at our doorstep,” said Long, who has lived in Murrieta most of his life and said he planned to send a “fat bill” to President Obama. “This is a nationwide problem, and little Murrieta has taken the lead.”
Murrieta City Manager Rick Dudley late Thursday issued a “message to the community” calling for greater civility from residents. He said Tuesday’s protest brought unflattering national news coverage and “was a loss for the city of Murrieta, for the community that we live in and love.”
“It made this extremely compassionate community look heartless and uncaring,” he said.
Long said by telephone Friday that there was talk of a protest up to two weeks before Tuesday’s confrontation. He said forcing the buses to turn around was neither planned nor called for. “It’s not reflective of our city. This controversial topic has turned us upside down,” Long said.
In recent months, thousands of children and families have fled violence, slayings and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained.
The crunch on the border in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley prompted U.S. authorities to fly immigrant families to other Texas cities and to Southern California for processing.
The Border Patrol is coping with excess capacity across the Southwest, and cities’ responses to the arriving immigrants have ranged from welcoming to indifferent.
In the border town of El Centro, Calif., a flight arrived Wednesday without protest.
In Nogales, Ariz., the mayor has said he welcomes the hundreds of children who are being dropped off daily at a large Border Patrol warehouse. Residents have donated clothing and other items for them.
In New Mexico, residents have been less enthusiastic.
At a town-hall meeting this week, residents in Artesia spoke against a detention center that recently started housing immigrants. They said they were afraid the immigrants would take jobs and resources from U.S. citizens.
Material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.