WASHINGTON, July 4, 2014 — The protests that turned back three buses of illegal immigrant detainees are not the end of the controversy, locally or nationally.
The City of Murrieta held a town hall meeting to address the event, the situation going forward and to allow citizens to express concerns and question various regional and federal stakeholders.
The town hall meeting was held at Murrieta Mesa High School, one of the two newer campuses in Murrieta, whose architecture somewhat ominously resemble a correctional facility, from the outside at least. Few events have taken place in California in recent years which attracted the extensive array of network communication vans. ABC and NBC affiliates from both Los Angeles and San Diego, CNN, several independent stations and, not surprisingly Univision and Telemundo, had media reporters in attendance. The relatively peaceful, but passionate rebellion has some placing the event in the context of the second in a conceivable trilogy, beginning with the Bundy Ranch stand down in Nevada.
Present were the Mayor of Murrieta, Alan Long two other council members, the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, Jeff Stone, Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson (San Diego Sector), Murrieta Chief of Police, Sean Hayden, Field Office Director David Jennings and Dr. Cameron Kaiser, County (Riverside) Health Officer. A large contingent of Murrieta police were strategically positioned as though some possibility of conflict between pro and anti-illegal immigration activists might be expected. Their presence might have had some deterrent factor, but contrary to live media coverage, the ratio of the two contending groups was lopsided. If there were roughly 1,000 in attendance favoring border security and internal enforcement, there might have been 20 to 50 in favor of legalization / amnesty, even if the close in and edited video footage from the networks appeared otherwise.
Mayor Long told the audience that he had been in negotiations with the Border Patrol on the number of detainees to be sent to Murrieta, beginning with 500, then 300 and ultimately agreeing to 140 migrants every 72 hours. Councilman Gibbs toured the Murrieta Station and concluded from interviews with officials that the local facility was not designed for processing, but rather as a small detention center for drug traffickers that the BP apprehends sporadically – the maximum capacity being 214.
San Diego Sector Chief Beeson explained the agency has arrested 210,000 border crossers so far this year. It takes, he estimates, 45 minutes to 3 hours to complete booking and processing of a migrant. He added that the Border Patrol doesn’t have sufficient facilities in the Rio Grande Sector, where the bulk of the crossings are taking place, to process and detain the numbers of migrants. The plan has been to put the overflow on chartered planes, fly them to San Diego and from there, perform health screening and transport to other stations for final processing. After processing is completed, the migrants are released on their own recognizance, ostensibly to travel to the homes of relatives or to be taken in by cooperative faith based groups with housing resources.
A number of questions remain. One revolves around the medical and communicable disease issue. It was not clear how extensive the medical examinations were that were performed prior to the flights or the subsequent bus transport. Reports have indicated that at least 4 of the migrants that were headed to the Murrieta facility had head lice and or scabies. The audience was told that after the buses were routed back to San Diego, some individuals were taken to medical facilities for treatment. Which hospitals provided treatment has not been disclosed.
Supervisor Stone said he called the Border Patrol with an offer to provide 2 of the county’s mobile hospital units to examine migrants and provide treatment and vaccinations as needed. Stone maintained that the answer was no county medical personnel would be allowed on the station premises, considered by them to be federal property. Chief Beeson contended that the Border Patrol’s response was not a flat denial, but neither did he say that next time county resources would be welcomed.
Dr. Kaiser did admit that the only contact that county medical personnel would have with the migrants after they were released, would be if they voluntarily visited one of the hospitals. Ms. Robin Hvidston of We The People Rising, underlined the sentiment of community concerns including the issue of contagion of disease. Local and county medical officials, she said, “can’t assess the risk and can’t obtain factual information because the government is placing de facto gag orders on medical professionals.”
Also in question, is the origin of the DHS policy which maintains that if an illegal border crosser surrenders to a Border Patrol agent and immediately asks for a judicial hearing on asylum grounds, they may not be deported if they are OTM (Other Than Mexican). It appears to be grounded in major loopholes in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility (IIRIRA) Act, signed by President Clinton. The biggest loophole is the provision that virtually the entire statute can be circumvented by the U.S. Attorney General. In effect, that the law is really not a law so much as it is a list of suggestions or policy guidelines malleable in the hands of the A.G, the Secretary of DHS and other high level decision makers.
What is clear is that conditions leading to the attempt to process migrants in towns like Murrieta did not suddenly manifest. In the Q&A session, some citizens grilled Border Patrol and ICE about precisely when they became aware that there was a surge underway requiring emergency assets to be deployed. This was apparently an unanticipated question, because they had a deer in the headlights expression. But their hesitancy in responding was not because they didn’t know the answer, but rather because the truth provided them no excuse other than to place blame on their superiors at DHS and the White House. The facts are that the government recognized its inability to cope with OTM border crossings as far back as 2001 and that there was a previous edition of the current surge in 2004 / 2005. Border Security experts have been warning Congress and the Executive Branch about the potential for an out of control situation for over a decade.
Also not unanticipated is the effect of the DHS policy of releasing most migrants not deemed to be a top level security threat, on their own recognizance, given the reality that the majority will not attend their scheduled court appearance before an immigration judge. When asked what the statistic of no shows are, the ICE representative replied, “I have no idea what the number is.” However, this is a false statement. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), was the author of an amendment requiring the Justice Department to compile these stats for the reason, he states here:
So, how many of these 575 people actually showed up for their hearings? One former INS District Director and Border Patrol Chief has said that in one of his sectors he thought the percentage of persons arrested outside a port of entry and released on their own recognizance who don’t show up for their hearing was 90%. When I asked the INS what the actual number was, the agency couldn’t tell me. The INS doesn’t even keep this statistic.
As Mark H. Metcalf, former U.S. Immigration Judge notes, “For years, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has grossly understated the number of aliens who evade court. In 2005 and 2006, DoJ said 39 percent of aliens missed court. Actually, 59 percent of aliens — aliens remaining free before trial — never showed.”
Although, illegal immigrant advocates have successfully blocked deportations, Murrieta is the first documented community that has blocked a federal catch and release scheme. This has federal authorities concerned because it may inspire more communities to resist this gross contradiction of the intent of national immigration law.
The situation in Murrieta and elsewhere remains fluid at this point and reportedly, the Border Patrol intends to stage further attempts at bringing detainees into the station there. As new developments in this constitutional crisis emerge, Communities Digital News will bring them to you.