America’s border chaos

A stand-off between pro- and anti-immigration activists in the southern Californian town of Murrieta over Central American migrants encapsulates the debate over America’s broken immigration system

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 09:41

A long a dusty southern Californian road, protesters occupy two spots just a few hundred yards apart. These are the two entry routes where they can stop immigration officials transporting busloads of newly arrived illegal immigrants, mostly women and children from Central America, into the local border patrol station at Murrieta.

This town, with a population of 104,459, is located about 130km (80 miles) southeast of Los Angeles and 160km (100 miles) from the Mexican border.

It has become a flashpoint between pro- and anti-immigration protestors reacting to what the Obama administration has called “an urgent humanitarian situation” caused by an influx of tens of thousands of immigrants, many unaccompanied children, seeking refuge and a better life in the US.

Most come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador where they are escaping increased levels of gang violence, the highest murder rates in the world and abject poverty. In some instances, they are drawn by family members already living in the US. In many cases, they have been smuggled through Mexico to the border by criminal gangs.

The US Border Patrol has made more than 174,000 arrests of migrants, mostly from these three countries, since October. Some 57,000 unaccompanied children have tried to enter the US since then, a tenfold increase since 2011. Just 1,500 of those have been repatriated.

Struggling to cope with overcrowded detention centres along the Texas-Mexico border filled with migrants entering through the Rio Grande Valley, immigration officials are transporting them to border patrol facilities and military bases in Texas, Arizona and California.

The standoff at Murrieta has been going on since July 1st when protestors waving American flags blocked three Department of Homeland Security buses carrying migrants, mostly mothers and small children from entering the Border Patrol station where they were to be held, forcing them to be redirected to centres in San Diego.

Murrieta’s protest began after its mayor, Alan Long, briefed residents of this Republican-leaning town about the plan to transfer Central American immigrants there from southern Texas.

The residents were told that immigration officials would try to transport 140 migrants to the town every 72 hours. By Wednesday, their around-the-clock protest had stopped buses attempting to enter on three days.

“We don’t want to create collateral damage by trying to bring them in here; you guys have had an impact,” the station’s conciliatory commander Walter Davenport told protestors on Tuesday evening.

While the crisis is a national issue, Murrieta’s stand has cast this conservative place in Californian wine country to the forefront of the raging debate around how the US tackles a perpetual problem: dealing with people seeking to make their home in one of the world’s richest countries at a time when politicians in Washington cannot agree on legislation to overhaul America’s broken immigration system.

Local residents say they are concerned that migrants will carry scabies and other diseases that are commonplace in Central America into their community. They are also fearful of migrants taking jobs when employment opportunities in the town are already scarce.

Murrieta’s military families

“These people here are not the kind of people who take shit,” said Tom Anderson, who is originally from Chicago and has lived in the Murrieta area for four years. “There are a lot of military families here, less of the California yuppie types. These are the kinds of guys who’ll stand in front of a bus and be willing to get run over by it.”

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