MURRIETA, California (CNN) –
Murrieta Police Chief Sean Hadden said he was told to expect 140 immigrants every 72 hours, with the next group scheduled to arrive Friday afternoon.
But government officials are not disclosing what city the immigrants will arrive, citing safety concerns in light of Tuesday’s protests in Murrieta.
The town became the latest battleground in the fight against immigration when angry crowds chanting “Go back home” forced buses carrying immigrants to turn around.
Counter-protesters squared off with demonstrators, leading to a shouting match over the nation’s immigration system.
As chaos ensued, federal officials rerouted the 140 undocumented immigrants to U.S. processing centers at least 80 miles away, in the San Diego and El Centro areas.
A tide of Central Americans illegally entering the United States has overwhelmed a system already buckling under the weight of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Unlike undocumented Mexican migrants, who are often immediately deported, the U.S. detains and processes Central Americans, who are eventually released and given a month to report to immigration offices.
Protests and tension
Many never show up and join the undocumented population, according to the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing Border Patrol agents.
The immigrants rejected by Murrieta protesters were initially held in Texas, where U.S. facilities are overflowing, forcing detainees to be sent to other states for processing.
The government doesn’t have the room to shelter the children with adults: there’s only one family immigration detention center, in Pennsylvania. To assist the unaccompanied children, President Barack Obama’s administration opened shelters last month on three military bases because federal facilities more designed for adults were overrun with minors.
Tuesday’s busloads didn’t include any unaccompanied minors, said Murrieta Police Chief Sean Hadden. The children on the buses were apparently in the company of relatives or other adults, said an official with the National Border Patrol Council.
Immigration rights advocates denounced the protesters.
“It is deplorable that people espousing anti-immigrant hate language created unnecessary tension and fear for immigrant mothers and their children,” Pedro Rios, a community representative of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said in a statement. “Even more concerning is that elected officials in the City of Murrieta instigated this tension. Mothers and their children on these buses have suffered through enough trauma.”
Journey from Texas
The U.S. government earlier flew the 140 Central American immigrants from south Texas to San Diego. Federal agents were busing them to Murrieta for processing at the Border Patrol station when the standoff took place Tuesday.
After the buses turned around, the immigrants were taken to a U.S. Border Patrol station in San Diego, said Ron Zermeno of the National Border Patrol Council.
The U.S. is struggling to accommodate an influx of undocumented immigrants, particularly a wave of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The U.S. government doesn’t have enough beds, food or sanitary facilities.
Authorities estimate 60,000 to 80,000 children will cross the border without parents this year in what the White House has called an “immediate humanitarian crisis.”
To help relieve crowded facilities in Texas, undocumented immigrants are now being sent elsewhere to be processed.
By Kyung Lah and Faith Karimi
CNN’s Kyung Lah contributed from Murrieta, and Faith Karimi wrote and reported from Atlanta.
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