Immigration: a major flashpoint on the 4th

By Matt Hamilton The Associated Press

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, they got dueling anti- and pro-immigration rallies Friday.

The crowd of 200 outside the station in Murrieta waved signs and sometimes shouted at each other. 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 and contained them on one approach to the station, leaving open an approach from the opposite direction.

It was not certain, however, that any buses would arrive Friday. Because of security concerns, federal authorities have said they will not publicize immigrant transfers among border patrol facilities. By late afternoon many demonstrators were leaving.

Six people were arrested, five suspected of interfering with police who were investigating a fight and one disorderly conduct, police said. One of the five was a woman who jumped on an officer’s back, but police did not give details on the actions of the rest.

Earlier this week, the city became the latest flashpoint in the intensifying immigration debate when a crowd of protesters waving U.S. flags blocked buses carrying women and children who were flown 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.”

Supporters said the immigrants need to be treated as humans and that migrating to survive is not a crime.

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’s top administrative official tried to clarify Long’s comments, saying he was only asserting the Border Patrol station was not an appropriate location to process the migrants and was encouraging residents to contact their federal representatives.

The July 3 statement by City Manager Rick Dudley, suggesting that protesters had come from elsewhere in Southern California, expressed regret that the busloads of women and children had been forced to turn around.

The Border Patrol is coping with excess capacity across the Southwest, and cities’ responses to the arriving immigrants have ranged from welcoming to indifferent.

Obama naturalizes citizens, calls for reform

In Washington, celebrating the ethnic diversity of America, President Barack Obama said more than two dozen foreign-born service members who became U.S. citizens at the White House on the Fourth of July are vivid reminders that welcoming immigrants “is central to our way of life.”

He pleaded anew for new immigration policies, saying the vast range of backgrounds and experiences that has made America a melting pot for more than 200 years also makes the country stronger. He argued that the system must be retooled for the U.S. to remain the greatest nation on earth.

“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life, it is in our DNA,” Obama said after the 25 service members representing 15 countries raised their right hands and pledged allegiance to the United States.

“From all these different strands, we make something new here in America. And that’s why, if we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we’re going to have to fix our immigration system, which is broken,” he said. “Pass common-sense immigration reform.

The immigration issue is earning renewed attention because of the influx to the U.S. of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America. Under U.S. law, they must be returned to their home countries, angering immigration advocates who already take issue with Obama’s enforcement of deportations. They want Obama to allow the children to stay.

Later Friday, Obama and his wife, Michelle, welcomed hundreds of service members and their families, including the new citizens, to an all-American barbecue on the South Lawn that was sponsored by the USO, a nonprofit organization that provides services and entertainment to U.S. troops and their families.

Naturalization ceremonies are common on the Fourth of July.

Demonstrators from opposing sides confront each other outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, California, on Friday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)