Murrieta residents have driven a line on the national immigration crisis, catching the federal government off guard earlier this week by forcing buses of illegal immigrants, many from Central America, to recede.
This rerouting of immigrants brought on by protesters thrust the city onto a national center stage. A stage set with many players from city, state and federal levels.
Close to a thousand people ascended into Murrieta Mesa High School’s auditorium Wednesday evening. They passed caravans of news trucks, fire trucks and strategically positioned police officers to seek information on the immigration crisis. It was standing room only inside the auditorium, which could only seat 750 people.
A few hundred more people stood outside and debated, waved signs and pleaded to officers to let them in to speak to a panel of local and national officials.
The panel was formed to speak about a controversial plan to process immigrants detained in Texas at the Murrieta U.S. Border Patrol facility. Murrieta Mayor Alan Long called for the town meeting as an effort to create a regional voice in Washington D.C. on the need to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States’ borders.
Council member Rick Gibbs said the Murrieta Border Patrol Station was made for detaining the mules and drug cartel traveling along the 1-15.
“If you are worried about humanitarian efforts you don’t put mothers and children in jail,” Gibbs said. “I have toured the Murrieta station; it has a steel bench to sleep on, concrete floors, two toilets that are exposed to everyone.”
Gibbs said it was serendipity as he was having lunch with Congressman Ken Calvert the day the city found out about the migrants coming to Murrieta and Calvert starting looking into rumors. Calvert also wrote a response immediately stating his position and outrage with the Obama administration and their handling of the federal issue.
“The press keeps trying to get people to say we are racist in Murrieta; we have a population that is 27 percent Hispanic and we have Hispanic council members,” Gibbs said. “Our reason to be against this is our services; the facilities here are a jail.”
“We are doing two things: standing up for the constitution, and treating these people humanely, ” he said “And putting them in jail is not humane.”
Mayor Long told the crowd his wife is 100 percent Hispanic and talked about his father in-law who migrated legally to the United States.
“We are not against immigration; just come here the right way,” Long said.
Federal officials reported close to 240,000 migrants and 52,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border illegally in recent months in the Rio Grande Valley.
The migrants are being transported to various cities around the country to help with processing but so far, Murrieta is the only place that has turned them away.
Riverside County’s Health Officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, addressed citizens’ concerns over the health of the migrants. He told the crowd if they were worried about measles and pertussis coming into the United States from the illegal immigrants, he had news for them.
“These diseases are already here and now would be a good time to get vaccinated,” Kaiser said.
The crowd asked the panel how some migrants passed the medical screening if they were ill at the airport in Texas. San Diego Sector Chief Paul Beeson reported four children were sent to local hospitals this week, two with a fever and two with scabies.
Residents questioned David Jennings, the Southern California field director for the immigration agency, how the agency determined who would be released.
Jennings said, “Moms and kids with no criminal background will be released.” The crowd booed at his response.
Long stepped in and told the crowd, “Turning the bus around did not solve the problem in D.C. We need to discuss how to change this.”
The crowd also wanted to know how much the situation was costing the city in which Long said, “The city is keeping a count and I do plan on sending Obama a big fat bill.” The crowd cheered and clapped.
“Do I have faith that bill will get paid