Arguments about illegal immigration flared Wednesday among an overflow crowd for a meeting on the subject in Murrieta, Calif. The town-hall-style meeting took place a day after protesters blocked buses taking immigrant mothers and children to a Border Patrol station in town. The migrants, who had illegally crossed the Texas border, were diverted to San Diego. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)
MURRIETA, Calif. — Suddenly, this city in the desert has become the place that turned away the immigrants.
Jennifer Medina of the New York Times reported that when three busloads of immigrant mothers and children rolled into town for processing at a Border Patrol station last week, they were met by protesters carrying American flags and signs proclaiming “return to sender” as they screamed “go home” and chanted “U.S.A.” Fearing for the safety of the migrants and federal officers, immigration officials decided to reroute the buses to San Diego, an hour south.
And a day after many here celebrated what they saw as a temporary victory, more than a thousand residents packed a high school auditorium on Wednesday night for a town-hall-style meeting that lasted more than four hours, voicing 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 Murrieta in the 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 responded with thunderous applause.
As federal officials have begun to send the expected 240,000 migrants and 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border illegally in recent months in the Rio Grande Valley to cities around the county, Murrieta so far is the only place that has managed to turn them away.
The reactions have been mixed: Officials in Dallas have said they will welcome thousands of migrant children and have helped to coordinate donations from local residents, but residents of Artesia, N.M., expressed frustration at a meeting this week that immigrants were being placed at a temporary detention center there. They stopped short, however, of blocking the buses.
Nowhere have the Central American immigrants been met with such tremendous anger as they have here, in this middle-class conservative community about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles.