Last week, images of angry protestors blocking buses of young migrants in Southern California attracted national attention. On July 7, protesters again obstructed the transfer of migrant children and adults to a Murrieta Border Patrol station. They carried signs stating, “Protect your Kids from Diseases,” “No New Taxe$ / No New Illegals,” “Stop Illegal Immigration,” and “Return to Sender.”
Their unabashed bigotry has been on display for the world to see. While most elected politicians eschew such anti-immigrant rhetoric, in practice, many have pursued the very policies demanded by the small crowd of demonstrators.
One of the organizers of last week’s protest, Patrice Lynes, is a member of the Temecula Tea Party. In a Facebook post on June 23, Lynes encouraged people to attend the Tuesday rally because authorities “need to know we oppose their pro-crime agenda of importing illegal aliens, diseases, and crime.”
Lynes is no newcomer to organized nativism. Along with another organizer of the Murrieta protests, Diana Serafin, Lynes organized to stop the construction of a local mosque. And in 2007, she signed a Conservative Exodus petition, which begins:
“We oppose the third-world invasion of the United States, and reject amnesty and any path to citizenship for illegals. We support deportation, attrition, and massive reductions in legal immigration, especially from the third world.”
It is clear – as so often is the case with anti-immigrant leaders – that this isn’t about fiscal conservatism or medical safety. This is a fight for what this country looks like – and who gets to be part of it.
The uptick in anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist hysteria is distressing in and of itself. And while the administration avoids the discriminatory rhetoric of the protestors, as do most – though certainly not all – members of Congress, there has been a distressing lack of political opposition to the policies demanded by the protestors.
The call to “send them home” is echoed in President Obama’s recent request to Congress for expedited deportations of Central American children. If granted, this request would roll back specific protections afforded young migrants under the 2008 Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPRA).
Laura Murphy of the ACLU criticized to President Obama’s request, and said such a proposal “further jeopardizes vulnerable children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.”
“The U.S. has domestic and international legal obligations to asylum-seeking children, including access to an attorney,” Murphy stated.
There is much that could be said about the dearth of due process protections in immigration proceedings more broadly – and lack of legal representation. For now, we should at least recognize that protections in place for Central American children should be expanded, not eliminated.
Similarly, the administration’s decision to house families at the Artesia Detention Center, after years of moving away from family detention, suggests an alarming capitulation to the fearmongering of the far Right. Or – more chillingly – the move points to a lack of substantial difference between the anti-immigrant movement, Republicans and Democrats – at least on this particular issue. Michelle Brané, Director of Migrant Rights & Justice Programs at Women’s Refugee Commission, criticized the government’s response:
“Simply put, we are profoundly disturbed by the White House’s willingness to sacrifice the lives of women and children for short-term political cover in this humanitarian crisis,” Brané said in a June 27 press release. “Family detention is an awful and heartbreaking process that traumatizes parents and their children. The Obama Administration should know better. The announced expedited process of deportations is not due process, but a mockery of justice from officials just trying to sweep endangered women and children out of sight and out of mind.”
Though the administration paired its policy proposal with the language of humanitarian relief, in practice, it is pursuing a program uncomfortably similar to the demands of nativist demonstrators.
Racist hysteria like that shown at Murietta should be a wake up call to us all. This is the bigotry and fear mongering driving the debate – and driving policy.
We have a chance to step up and do the right thing. In the midst of a regional crisis, we can prove that the U.S. will respect human rights and due process, that we are still a country that welcomes and protects refugees.
It’s time for us to say, with our actions as well as our words – that Murietta does not speak for us.
Lauren Taylor is a field organizer at the Center for New Community.
Image source: Jill Replogle/KPBS