MURRIETA, Calif. - A group of 140 Central American migrants who entered the United States illegally were flown from Texas to Lindbergh Field on Tuesday and then bused to a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, where crowds of angry protesters prompted authorities to take them instead to San Ysidro.
Protesters have forced buses to back up. Lots of arguments breaking out in the crowd. pic.twitter.com/eoVwgkWh0P— Matt Mendes (@10NewsMendes) July 1, 2014
The drivers of the three Department of Homeland Security coaches backed away from the Riverside County USBP facility and got onto southbound Interstate 15 in the late afternoon, re-entering San Diego County about 3:30 p.m.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack declined to disclose where the migrants were being taken, but by late afternoon, the buses were seen pulling into a Customs and Border Protection facility in San Ysidro.
According to Ron Zermeno, who is with the National Border Patrol Council, less than a dozen EMTs were conducting health screenings on the immigrants Tuesday evening. Paramedics are on scene supervising the screenings.
He told 10News two to three children were taken to the hospital for "unknown illnesses." Their conditions were unknown. Zermeno says they are anticipating more could be taken to the hospital because many are unhealthy.
Once the immigrants are cleared by EMTs, they will be sent to other Border Patrol facilities for processing, according to Zeremeno. Some of the locations mentioned were El Cajon, El Centro, Chula Vista, Campo, Boulevard, San Clemente and Murrieta.
Outside of the facility gates, supporters carried signs to welcome the immigrants.
"If they didn't understand welcome, they could just see the heart and the smiling face … maybe that will come across and just make them feel good," said supporter Kevin Creely.
He added, "(We spend) billions of dollars on being better at war. Any amount of that could go to feed them and help these people."
Supporter William Crumly says he made a sign and came to the facility after seeing how they were greeted in Murrieta.
"It was a little disturbing to see these vulnerable people met with such negativity," he said.
Antonio Fahme told 10News that their journey hits close to home.
"I came here through the struggles of my parents who were not originally from this land, and I've been afforded incredible opportunity," Fahme told 10News. "I hope that these children get the same opportunity."
Tuesday's departure of the migrants from the Riverside area marked a victory for the protesters who had gathered to decry the foreigners' arrival there, many waving flags and others carrying signs reading "Stop Illegal Immigration" and "Return to Sender." Immigrant supporters also made a showing outside the Murrieta facility.
They chanted and shouted racial slurs at each other while waving American and Mexican flags.
"They're trying to kick us out for no reason," said Sonia Nolasco. "They're trying to say we're trying to take over their city and their town and this and that and it's not true."
"We want families to be together, united, this is the best thing that can happen in the U.S., " said Pedro Gomez.
Opponents said they were not against immigrants coming to this country if the legal process is followed.
"Everybody that wants to come to this nation is entitled to, but they should come the right way," said Bob Cuccio.
"You bring in all these children and they're going to take over our schools. What's going to happen to the kids that were born and raised here?" said Bel Reeves.
Roughly a hundred protesters blocked the three buses carrying the undocumented immigrants from arriving at the Border Patrol station in Murrieta.
10News asked the police chief why his officers did not do more to clear the road. Chief Sean Hadden said his staff was waiting for mutual aid to arrive, but before that happened, the Border Patrol made the decision to pull out.
"They can't block a public roadway, but like I said, once we were waiting to get our staff there we'd make the order to clear the roadway. If they didn't, they were subject to arrest," said Hadden.
The chief said he is worried about the crisis taking a toll on his department's resources.
"It's a big impact on our department. You figure I have over a quarter of my officers out at this one scene and we have other things to worry about in our city," said Hadden.
During Tuesday night's city council meeting, the chief took questions from a packed room of concerned citizens.
One woman broke down as she addressed the city council.
"I feel like we're being destroyed because of the administration and what he's doing," the woman said, referring to President Obama. "I feel for these children. I believe they're being used and abused by our government and theirs."
The group of migrants had flown into San Diego aboard a chartered flight about noon.
The migrants are mostly "adults with children" and were among tens of thousands of citizens of Central American countries who have poured into the United States via Texas this year, according to ICE officials.
President Obama in a news conference Monday called the spike in immigrants crossing into the U.S. through Texas a "humanitarian crisis" and asked for more than $2 billion to help with the situation. The president said he will go around Congress and shift resources to the border by the end of summer.
The Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector has been overwhelmed by the arrivals, prompting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to seek other locations to send them until their cases can be assessed.
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection's El Centro and San Diego sectors are about to begin assisting with the processing of migrants apprehended in South Texas, many of whom are adults with children," according to an ICE statement released Monday.
"CBP will transfer certain individuals to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Removal Operations, where appropriate custody determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing national security and public
The ICE document specified that Murrieta would be the end point for "processing" the individuals, noting that they "may be released with instructions to report to a local ICE office near their destination address within 15 days."
Following Tuesday's standoff in Murrieta, ICE officials said that once the migrants are processed, they will be taken to a "transition center" in Riverside County set up by a faith-based organization that would help the
migrants arrange transportation to their final destinations and help them contact family members.
Murrieta Mayor Alan Long told concerned residents during a town hall meeting Monday that the city had coordinated with the Border Patrol to ensure the anticipated influx didn't create an untenable situation locally.
He expressed frustration that the federal government was moving its "headache" to Riverside County but assured residents that the individuals set to arrive don't have criminal backgrounds.
"This is a failure to enforce federal law at the federal level," Long said. "Murrieta continues to object to the transfer of illegal immigrants to the local Border Patrol office."
Officials said more migrants could be brought to Southern California in as soon as 72 hours.
Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform told City News Service there is no way of knowing "with certainty" the histories of those being brought to the area. Mehlman said some of the "children" who have been showing up and surrendering to federal agents along the border look older than they claim and have been identified as affiliates of criminal syndicates such as the notorious MS-13.
"Before the Obama administration put a gag order on the Border Patrol, agents were saying they recognized some of these so-called 'kids' as gang members," Mehlman said. "The agents were forced to take them anyway. The last thing any community wants is more gang members running around."
Mehlman said the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy initiative has served as an "inducement" for undocumented immigrants to make a mad dash across the U.S.-Mexico border.
"There's no question about a surge," Mehlman said. "The estimates are 90,000 DACA asylum-seekers this year and 150,000 next year. DACA sends a signal that if you're a minor, you'll get to stay in the United States, regardless of immigration status."
According to Mehlman, DACA is a spin-off of the DREAM Act, which has failed to attain federal legislative approval, though a number of states, including California, have enacted their own versions. Under California's DREAM Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria are provided with financial aid for college. Critics characterize DACA and the DREAM Act as just backdoor forms of amnesty.