The Southern California city that became a flashpoint in the crisis over children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is waiting to learn if the feds will try to send new busloads of undocumented immigrants — and whether the tensions on display earlier this week will flare up again.
Dozens of protesters blocked the road to Murrieta Tuesday and managed to turn away a bus headed for a processing center there, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not told local officials if any more are coming.
But organizers of the initial demonstration — which featured people chanting "Go back home!" and angry confrontations with immigrant supporters — say they are ready to take to the streets again to stop the migrants from coming in.
“We are defending our nation,” protest organizer Patrice Lynes said Thursday. “We want the laws enforced at the border. A nation without borders is a nation without sovereignty.”
Lynes vowed that the protests would continue Friday, or whenever the next buses attempt to reach the town. “We will stop when the whole process stops. That’s when we will stop,” she said.
"I feel horrible that the whole situation is happening. And how it's unfolding is just awful."
Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, which advocates stricter enforcement of immigration laws, said Murrieta's success in blocking the first bus and a fiery standing-room-only town hall meeting have brought the city attention that will attract other protesters from around the state.
“As soon as it’s known where those buses are going to be, there will be protests. You’ll see probably not more than 300 in the next one, but the word is out. I hope there is a good showing of law enforcement, because this can get nasty real quick," Gilchrist said.
Murrieta police said in a statement on its website that it would work with Customs and Border Protection if demonstrators block the road to the intake center as they did on Tuesday. The department also defended itself from criticism that officers stood by and let protesters block the path.
“The police department was preparing to clear the roadway and make arrests if necessary,” during Tuesday’s action, but Border Patrol made the call to reroute the buses as police were waiting for backup to forcefully clear the road.
There will be demonstrators in support of the migrants as well. A silent “peace rally” is planned for noon in downtown Friday, in which demonstrators will use signs to counter what they called racist and hateful rhetoric used by Tuesday’s protesters.
“They need to understand that these are human beings and that they deserve a chance at our freedom and our equality as well,” one of the counter demonstration organizers, Riana Youngken, said Thursday. "It’s acting purely out of hatred and prejudice, and I don’t believe our country was founded upon these values.”
"We are defending our nation. We want the laws enforced at the border. A nation without borders is a nation without sovereignty."
In Murrieta's historic downtown Thursday, there were mixed feelings about Tuesday's standoff.
"I would like them all to go back where they belong. I don't want to support more people than we have the ability to do so. Nor do we have a place to store them," said Rea Douglas, an antique shop owner.
"For once, a community got together and had one mind and wasn't afraid to show it," she said. "Having the border station so close by, I guess maybe they think that that's a good place to dump them. But that isn't the answer. They need to come up with some other answer, not dumping them in the United States."
Tiffany Hazellar, who has lived in Murrieta for five years and owns a credit repair company, said she was "scared" about what the future might bring.
"I feel really, really bad for the kids and the parents that are trying to come here. And I feel horrible that the whole situation is happening. And how it's unfolding is just awful," she said.
"It's not fair that we would be taking people here," she added. "But at the end of the day, I'm a mom and I have kids and if it were me, I'd wanna be received as well. So there's kind of a no-win situation."