Opposing sides in US immigration debate agree need for policy change

In flashpoint California town, protesters agree system for processing illegal arrivals is broken

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 6:09am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 6:09am

Demonstrations for against immigration intensified in southern California as protesters filled a desolate road to a US Customs and Border Station to await the arrival of undocumented Central American families for processing.

Protesters flocked to the town of Murrieta, 60km from Los Angeles, where police said some 140 undocumented families were expected on buses from Texas. And those on both sides of the debate found some common ground: agreement that US government policy needs to change.

Immigrant families are fleeing to the US from strife-torn Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras by the thousands. Most have shown up in Texas, overwhelming detention and processing facilities and leading authorities to set up overflow sites in California to screen and manage them.

On Tuesday, Murrieta residents blocked three buses transporting undocumented families to the border station.

On Friday, hundreds of people gathered, anticipating another convoy of vehicles carrying illegal immigrants. But by late afternoon, there had been no repeat of Tuesday's action.

The escalating border crisis has reignited debate in the US over illegal immigration. Both pro- and anti-immigration activists blame Washington.

Salvador Chavez of Los Angeles - standing with immigration supporters on one side of Madison Avenue, Murrieta - said the dysfunctional way the US deals with those illegally in the country was the overarching issue.

"Both sides agree with each other, but we have totally different beliefs [about how to solve the problem]," he said.

Local resident William Isaacs, aligned with anti-immigration demonstrators on the other side of the road, said the system was "broken".

The number of protesters swelled on Friday, undaunted by the summer heat, the July 4 Independence Day holiday and a police strategy that mostly kept the groups apart and away from the processing centre.

Police arrested six people for obstructing officers.

The group protesting at the transfer of immigrants to California waved American flags and chanted "USA", while across the street, demonstrators responded with "Shame on you!"

"We are not racists or bigots," said Murrieta resident William Satmary, who said local governments did not have the capacity to handle the new arrivals. "This is about resources, not race."

The federal push for processing immigrants was putting too high a burden on cities like Murrieta, said Betty Robinson, who had come from Orange County, California, to join the protest.

Protester Elizabeth Thornton, who was there to support the detainees but was not enamoured with the federal approach to immigration, said: "We're here to counter the overwhelming racism and xenophobia that we've seen here the last few days."

Reuters, McClatchy-Tribune


Obama touts America's diversity ashe calls for immigration reform

Celebrating the ethnic diversity of America, US President Barack Obama said more than two dozen foreign-born military members who became US 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 on Friday 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 changed for the US 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.

Associated Press