President Obama used the Fourth of July to urge Americans to welcome immigrants to the U.S., saying opening our arms is “central to our way of life,” but a group of anti-immigration protesters in Murrieta continued to try to prevent the federal government from sending more undocumented immigrants to their Southern California town.
“We have to fix our immigration system, which is broken, and pass common-sense immigration reform,” Obama said at a White House ceremony for 25 foreign-born men and women who gained American citizenship for their service in the U.S. military.
The Murrieta protesters were emboldened by their success earlier in the week blocking buses carrying 140 undocumented immigrants sent from a Texas Border Patrol station, where they were to be processed before being moved to await deportation or asylum. More protesters showed up yesterday, believing more buses were due to arrive, but instead they were met by a group of pro-immigration activists who staged a counter-protest.
Protesters told the Wall Street Journal they were concerned that Murrieta and its residents would now be labeled as racist.
“We’re not like that. We’re very good people, very compassionate people,” said Anita Radosevic, who said she opposes Central Americans coming to the United States. “But the people that are coming in, they’re not from Mexico. We’re more than willing to help our illegals from Mexico. They’re more like Americans. They come here and they work hard.”
Immigration supporter Joey Johnson of San Francisco, who drove hundreds of miles to show his support for the immigrants, said, “This is horrendous, what this government has done to all of Central America, economically dominating it for decades, causing the conditions where people have to flee their homelands.”
This current crisis has been prompted by thousands of children and families in recent months flooding into the U.S. to escape violence, murders and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Officials say more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained since last October. The government has faced such an overload in the Rio Grande Valley that officials have been forced to fly immigrant families to other Texas cities and to Southern California for processing.
The situation in Southern California has put Obama in a difficult position because while he pushes for immigration reform, he has had to concede that most of the recent migrants will be sent home—underscoring his much-criticized actions in recent years. He has deported 2 million undocumented immigrants since he took office, prompting many advocates to call him a hypocrite.
“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life,” Obama said during the White House ceremony for the 25 new citizens, coming from 15 countries ranging from Australia to Guatemala to the Philippines to Ukraine. “It’s in our DNA. … We shouldn’t be making it harder for the best and brightest to come here.”
In response to the furor in Murrieta, federal authorities told the media they will stop publicizing immigrant transfers among border patrol facilities.
In Murrieta, residents tried to explain their anti-immigration stance.
“This is a way of making our voices heard,” Steve Prime, a resident of nearby Lake Elsinore, told the Wall Street Journal. “The government’s main job is to secure our borders and protect us—and they’re doing neither.”
Melinda Ward says Murrieta’s processing station isn’t equipped to handle such a large group of people. She said she was worried about the costs of housing and medical care.
“It all comes down to the tax dollars. We’re paying for it,” she said. “The government has dropped it on us and now we have to pay for it.”
But supporters of the immigrants say they need to be treated as humans, and that migrating to survive is not a crime.
“We’re celebrating the 4th of July and what a melting pot America is,” high school history teacher Raquel Alvarado said. “They don’t want to have their kids share the same classroom.”
Media reports have pointed out that other towns have accepted the new immigrants without complaint. As a matter of fact, in Nogales, Arizona, residents have donated clothing and other items for the hundreds of children who are being dropped off daily at a large Border Patrol warehouse.