Mark J. Terrill / AP
Published Friday, July 4, 2014 | 11:22 a.m.
Updated Friday, July 4, 2014 | 6:40 p.m.
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 on 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 for interfering with police who were investigating a fight and one for disorderly conduct early, 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 American 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."
Immigration supporters said the immigrants need to be treated as humans and that migrating to survive is not a crime.
"We're celebrating the 4th of July and what a melting pot America is," said Raquel Alvarado, a high school history teacher and Murrieta resident who chalked up the fear of migrants in the city of roughly 106,000 to discrimination.
"They don't want to have their kids share the same classroom," she said.
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.
Long said by telephone Friday that there was talk of a protest up to two weeks before Tuesday's confrontation and the intent of his press conference Monday "was to squelch people's rumors and to put people's nerves at ease."
He said forcing the buses to turn around was neither planned nor called for. "It's not reflective of our city. This controversial topic has turned us upside down," Long said. "It just happened to land on our doorstep, and we want to be part of a solution."
Some local leaders said the outrage among some area residents was justified, given the already stressed social services infrastructure and the stagnant regional economy.
Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said they weren't concerned about the people on the buses. "It's the thousands more that will follow that will strain our resources and take away the resources we need to care for our own citizens," he said.
In recent months, thousands of children and families have fled violence, murders and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained.
The crunch on the border in Texas' Rio Grande Valley prompted U.S. authorities to fly immigrant families to other Texas cities and to Southern California for processing.
The Border Patrol is coping with excess capacity across the Southwest, and cities' responses to the arriving immigrants have ranged from welcoming to indifferent.
In the border town of El Centro, California, a flight arrived Wednesday without protest.
In Nogales, Arizona, the mayor has said he welcomes the hundreds of children who are being dropped off daily at a large Border Patrol warehouse. Residents have donated clothing and other items for them.
In New Mexico, however, residents have been less enthusiastic.
At a town hall meeting this week, residents in Artesia spoke out against a detention center that recently started housing immigrants. They said they were afraid the immigrants would take jobs and resources from U.S. citizens.
Associated Press writers Astrid Galvan in Tucson, Arizona, and Amy Taxin in Tustin, California, contributed to this report.