MURRIETA, Calif. — Rumors had swirled among anti-immigration activists near a U.S. Border Patrol station in Southern California that the agency would try again to bus in some of the immigrants who have flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Instead, by late Friday afternoon, the city got dueling anti- and pro-immigration rallies.
A crowd of 200 outside the station in Murrieta waved signs and sometimes shouted at one another. One banner read: "Proud LEGAL American. It doesn't work any other way." Another countered: "Against illegal immigration? Great! Go back to Europe!"
Law enforcement officers separated the two sides, leaving enough space for a bus to drive into the station.
It was not clear, however, whether any buses would arrive on Friday. Because of security concerns, federal authorities have said they will not publicize immigrant transfers among border patrol facilities.
Earlier this week, the city became the latest flash point in the intensifying immigration debate when a crowd of protesters waving American flags blocked buses carrying women and children who had been flown in from overwhelmed Texas facilities.
Federal authorities had hoped to process them at the station in Murrieta, about 55 miles north of downtown San Diego.
"This is a way of making our voices heard," said Steve Prime, a resident of nearby Lake Elsinore. "The government's main job is to secure our borders and protect us — and they're doing neither."
Immigration supporters said the immigrants need to be treated like humans and that migrating to survive is not a crime.
"We're celebrating the Fourth of July and what a melting pot America is," said Raquel Alvarado, a high school history teacher and Murrieta resident who chalked up the fear of immigrants in the city of roughly 106,000 to discrimination.
The city's mayor, Alan Long, became a hero to those seeking stronger immigration policies with his criticism of the federal government's efforts to handle the influx of thousands of immigrants, many of them mothers and children.
However, Murrieta officials tried to clarify Long's comments, saying he was only asserting that the local Border Patrol station was not an appropriate location to process the immigrants and was encouraging residents to contact their federal representatives.
The July 3 statement by City Manager Rick Dudley, which suggested that protesters had come from elsewhere in Southern California, expressed regret that the busloads of women and children had been forced to turn around.
"This was not a victory," he wrote. "It was a loss for the city of Murrieta, for the community that we live in and love. It made this extremely compassionate community look heartless and uncaring. That is NOT the Murrieta that we all know and love."
Other local leaders said the outrage among some area residents is justified, given the already stressed social services infrastructure and the stagnant regional economy.
Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said he wasn't worried about the people on the buses.
"It's the thousands more that will follow that will strain our resources and take away the resources we need to care for our own citizens," he said.
In recent months, thousands of children and families have fled violence, murders and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained.
The crunch on the border in Texas' Rio Grande Valley prompted U.S. authorities to fly immigrant families to other Texas cities and to Southern California for processing.
The Border Patrol is coping with excess capacity across the Southwest, and cities' responses to the arriving immigrants have ranged from welcoming to indifferent.
In the border town of El Centro, Calif., a flight arrived Wednesday without protest.
In Nogales, Ariz., the mayor has said he welcomes the hundreds of children who are being dropped off daily at a large Border Patrol warehouse. Residents have donated clothing and other items for them.
In New Mexico, however, people have been less enthusiastic. At a town hall meeting this week, residents in Artesia spoke out against a detention center that recently started housing immigrants. They said they were afraid the immigrants would take jobs and resources from U.S. citizens.