By Arturo R. García
Over the course of the past week, the face of the “ugly American” (or perhaps more accurately, the “angry ‘Murican”) has migrated. Usually these kinds of images are associated, for better or worse, with the politically Red states of the Midwestern and Southern U.S. But now Murrieta, California — a conservative enclave in one of the country’s more reliably Blue states — has emerged as the new face of modern xenophobia. And that reputation appears to have been cultivated from the top down.
A local Customs and Border Protection facility has been targeted by anti-immigrant protesters ever since federal officials began planning to use it to process some of the thousands of Central American immigrants who have made their way to the U.S. since late last year. At least 50,000 “unaccompanied minors” — mostly children and women fleeing gang- and drug-related violence in their own countries — have been tallied so far, despite warnings by both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to not undertake this dangerous journey.
On July 1, the protesters forced three buses full of immigrants to be rerouted from Murrieta to San Ysidro, about 70 miles south. Many of them chanted “U-S-A” at the buses and otherwise taunted them.
“If these were Canadian children, we would not be having this interview right now, and that’s a fact,” said Enrique Morones from the immigration advocacy group Border Angels, which had prepared care packages for the incoming immigrants.
But as Fusion reported, city officials encouraged the angry display in an official statement insisting on saying the buses carried “illegal immigrants” and raising doubts that they endangered the town’s safety. There was also this questionable line:
Murrieta has been informed that the immigrants will have already been screened for health issues, but Supervisor Stone and Murrieta are not taking any chances
In other words, city officials were characterizing hundreds of women and children as potential criminal and health threats despite the fact that they were likely only going to be in their city long enough to be accounted for and moved out to other sites. The statement was later taken down and replaced with less radical language, but Fusion noted that the local police department continues to refer to the immigrants as “aliens.”
National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguía explicitly blamed Mayor Alan Long for the fabricated uproar surrounding the immigrant transports in a column for The Huffington Post:
It was he who incited his constituents to protest and let law enforcement look the other way. It was he who recklessly demagogued the issue to spare himself a political problem and is now crying crocodile tears about the “black eye” media coverage he has given his town. He took an epic, immensely complicated humanitarian situation that involves broken policymaking both in Central America and in the U.S. and pointed the finger of blame at a bus full of little kids and babies.
What is so craven about Long’s “blame-the-victim” strategy is that he and the anti-immigrant extremists he unleashed not only blocked a couple of buses, they continue to block every single attempt at a humane and effective solution by reasonable policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Egged on by shameless demagogues like Long at the local level and lawmakers like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) at the national level, the small but loud anti-immigrant movement like the one on display in Murrieta is the single biggest reason we do not yet have comprehensive immigration reform.
Long, who is up for re-election in November, didn’t exactly disprove Murguía’s allegations during an interview with CNN on Sunday in which he blamed “people from out of town” for escalating the situation, following his complaints about the potential damage to Murrieta’s reputation as a result of the protests.
It doesn’t “help” Long’s case to compare the behavior of his own residents to the response immigrants have received in McAllen, Texas, where a local Catholic group has provided clothings and showers for them, while more than 20 medical professionals have donated their time to provide care:
Doctors like Martin Garza are volunteering their time to check out the undocumented immigrants and treat what have mostly been colds, respiratory infections, and stomach problems that are common after a long journey. Most of the people Garza has seen spent about 15 days traveling to and across the border, and then another three to five days in federal detention.
The effort started when physicians began helping the immigrants in a parking lot next to the bus stop, and grew from there, Dr. Garza said. There are now 22 physicians working 10-hour shifts to treat the refugees.
“They’ve been through 20 days of travel. They’ve been through conditions we can’t fathom,” Dr. Garza said. “There is a need and people are saying, ‘I can help.’”
In any case, Long’s efforts appear to be too little, too late: not only has a Facebook campaign appeared calling for a formal boycott of his town’s businesses, but some of the protesters also gained unwelcome attention for harassing and allegedly spitting on popular Mexican singer Lupillo Rivera, who has sought to bring the issue to light in Spanish-speaking media.
“They harassed me. They insulted me,” Rivera told CNN Mexico. “They called me some ugly names. They spit at me. But what they wanted was for me to lose control.”