Protesters in Murrieta (photo: David Bauman, Riverside Press-Enterprise)
Responding to what President Barack Obama called “an immediate humanitarian crisis,” the residents of Murrieta, southeast of Los Angeles, stepped up with flags waving and arms outstretched—and blocked three busloads of undocumented families from entering their city for processing at the U.S. Border Patrol station on the way to temporary shelter.
It was the first confrontation between California residents and federal authorities, who are frantically looking for places to stash thousands of Central American immigrants suddenly streaming across the Mexican border into Texas. It is a migration unlike any before it. An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 children without parents are expected to cross the border this year after traveling from far south of Mexico.
For the most part, they aren’t trying to sneak in. They are just walking across the border, perhaps under the mistaken belief that the U.S. does not easily boot out women and children. We do, and have no qualms about quickly deporting Mexicans. But it is harder to send Central Americans back home on chartered planes, especially if they make requests for asylum.
Although anti-immigration activists blame Obama for illegal border crossings, his administration has staffed the Border Patrol at record levels and deported record numbers of people.
The 140 passengers turned away in Murrieta did not include any parentless children, but there were a lot of moms and kids on board. Ten of the children were taken to hospitals after the buses were rerouted to the San Diego area. Another seven were isolated after being diagnosed with scabies.
The sudden influx has caught the Border Patrol and everyone else by surprise although the change in immigration patterns began to develop (pdf) in the middle of 2011. While immigration of children from Mexico has held steady since fiscal year 2009, young immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have surged.
In FY 2011, 4,059 unaccompanied children from those countries were apprehended. The number grew to 10,443 the next year and doubled to 21, 537 in FY 2013. The number is expected to triple this year.
The Obama administration has opened shelters at three military bases, including Naval Base Ventura County in California, to handle the kid-heavy traffic, but they have quickly run out of options. President Obama announced an intention to spend $2 billion for temporary housing in communities burdened with providing shelter for young immigrants.
The United Nations interviewed 404 of the children detained at the border and said 53% of them cited societal violence or abuse at home among their reasons for leaving. Most of the children gave multiple reasons for fleeing their native country, most prominent being reuniting with family members. Half cited economic opportunity, a quarter said they wanted a better life and 19% mentioned a better education. Poverty was seldom given as the only reason for leaving.
Murrieta Mayor Alan Long defended his town’s behavior as a passionate First Amendment expression of opposition to administration policy on immigration. Their critics called them heartless racists. An argument could be made that both are right.
The 125 or so protesters who showed up Tuesday displayed signs with all the usual vitriol one comes to expect at passionate gatherings of this sort. A lot of threats, screaming, shaking fists and chants of “USA, USA.” This was California, not the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, so the protesters weren’t all packing heat. But it was hard to tell who the protesters hated more, illegals or Obama.
That might become clearer later in the week when more buses are expected to arrive, perhaps as early as Friday, July 4.