The stage was set for raucous protests but there was no dramatic conclusion in Murrieta on Friday, as demonstrators waited hours in the blistering sun for buses full of undocumented immigrants that never arrived.
There were chants and at least one physical fight between opponents of an expected transfer of undocumented immigrants to the southern California town and those who showed up to support the migrants. One woman fainted from heat exhaustion as midday temperatures soared above 90 degrees.
“We need to stop these busloads of illegals,” said Liz Herger, who was one of about 75 protesters who showed up to oppose the expected transfer Friday. “We are an economically depressed area and we already don’t have jobs … who's gonna take care of them? We're not going to.”
Three women and two men were arrested throughout the course of the day, police said.
Protesters on both sides showed up here Friday after Customs and Border Protection said it may transfer some undocumented immigrants from overburdened facilities in Texas to Murrieta every three days — and the last time it tried was on Tuesday.
Murrieta, a town of about 103,000 about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles, became a flashpoint in the immigration crisis after protesters on Tuesday blocked the road to an intake facility and prevented three buses carrying about 140 migrants from getting through. The buses eventually turned around and went to another facility.
Demonstrators opposed to the transfer — part of a federal plan to relieve Texas facilities overwhelmed by more than 50,000 unaccompanied children who have poured across the border since October — weren’t the only ones who showed up in Murrieta Friday.
A crowd supporting the immigrants also turned out, and the two camps at times shouted at one another from across a country road. Chants of “USA!”, “Go home!”, and “Stop breaking the law” were met with “Refugees are not illegal!”, “Racists! Racists!”, and “Si se puede!”, which in English means “yes, we can.”
“This country is based on immigration and I cannot believe how kids aren't being welcomed. It blows my mind,” said Osvaldo Delgado, of Mexican descent whose parents came to the U.S. legally. “They're fleeing for their lives.”
It isn’t clear when, or if, the next attempt to transfer undocumented immigrants to the Murrieta facility would be made. A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on whether the plan to process some undocumented immigrants at the facility there was still in place.
— Reporting by Leo Juarez