Protests in Murrieta and Oracle Point to the Racism of US Immigration Policies

If you’ve been paying attention to the continued unfolding of the crisis facing immigrant children entering the U.S., it’s likely you’ve heard that a bus of detained immigrants being transported by U.S. Border Patrol was stopped by a group of protesters outside of Murrieta, California. The protesters yelled chants at the bus, including, “Go Back Home,” and “U-S-A,” and they held extremely racist signs.

The buses bound for Murrieta were primarily transporting children accompanied by family members. In Murrieta, they were to be processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before being released around the country to places where they had family. It is not typical for Murrieta’s facilities to be used for these purposes, but because Border Patrol and ICE have detained more people than it can handle close to where they are apprehended, they have been transporting people to more remote or less-frequented places like Murrieta. Before the buses arrived, the Murrieta officials posted on the town website, implying the arriving detained immigrants would pose health and safety threats to the town. The blog said, “the immigrants will have already been screened for health issues… Murrieta will remain a safe community regardless of the pending arrival of these illegal immigrants.” The “I-word” was used incessently, even being used in the title of a piece (since removed) called, “Murrieta Opposes Illegal Immigrant Arrival.” Referring to immigrants as “illegal” is an offensive and othering technique used to bolster anti-immigrant campaigns and hate.

It looked like this. via SF Gate

It looked like this. via SF Gate

While the example of Murrieta is extreme and unusual, the racist attitudes expressed are hardly surprising. Copy-cat protests have since sprouted up in Oracle, Arizona, and a proposed shelter site in Westminster, Maryland was vandalized with the message “No illeagles here.” And while it’s also not particularly surprising to see government officials fostering anti-immigrant sentiment (Did you hear the one about Texas governor Rick Perry going out to “patrol” the border with Sean Hannity and a machine gun? It happened), it’s not like it only occurred to Murrieta residents to be racist and xenophobic while browsing through their town’s blog. Encouragement of racism like what went down in Murrieta (and Oracle and Westminster) has long been tied to the expansion of border policies.

This is the town logo, apparently.

This Murrieta’s town logo, apparently.

Racist ideas about immigrant groups have always been harnessed to justify exclusionary immigration policy and the construction of physical borders. While we can trace this all the way back to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the invention of the passport in the 19th century, we can see it just as vividly in the fact that kids and families risking their lives to cross the U.S./Mexico border by the thousands have been characterized as invaders. Instead of meeting these kids and families with empathy and outrage over the fact that they need to leave their homes (which also has to do with U.S. policy, incidentally), they are met with rage and incarceration. Now, deportation proceedings for these kids are going forward despite the fact that the U.S. is being encouraged to handle this as a refugee crisis. These deportation proceedings come about via institutionalized racist elements like the fact that people in immigration court are not entitled to legal representation, so kids are being forced to represent themselves in courts that don’t even speak their native languages. But they also come about via more explicitly racist attitudes that permit and encourage the exclusion and neglect of people who are migrating.

Because Murrieta is not the only place where locals are taking anti-immigration sentiment in their own hands. Todd Miller, author of Border Patrol Nation said,

“Murrieta is one little dot in the landscape that we’re seeing on the border right now, especially for the last couple of weeks. You have this anti-immigrant backlash you’re seeing — different ‘Murrieta’ reactions across the border landscape. It seems to me like the Obama administration’s first response — this idea of ‘speeding up’ the deportation process — is a response to this incessant, racist banter you’re getting.”

Activists stop buses bound for Operation Streamline, fast-tracked deportation proceedings. via Al Jazeera

Activists stop buses bound for Operation Streamline, fast-tracked deportation proceedings. via Al Jazeera

The racism of the immigration system is also apparent when you consider that the people of Murrieta are not the only people to have blocked buses of immigrants being transported by Border Patrol in the past year. Last fall, when protestors chained themselves to buses in an attempt to stop deportations, they were arrested and faced criminal charges. Basically, the protesters in Murrieta received no consequences from law enforcement. Miller noted, “to me this speaks to the broader question of, what sorts of actions are not criminalized? Even though these were basically the same action — a bus being blocked — our law enforcement treated them totally differently.”

This discrepancy in how protestors that block immigration proceedings are treated sends a clear signal that racist attitudes are tolerated, and are being both implicitly and explicitly endorsed by government officials, agencies and law enforcement. Murrieta’s recent display of racism disrupted immigration enforcement, essentially because the people protesting didn’t think the people on the buses were being treated harshly enough. These sorts of racist outcries that dehumanize migrating people happen often, and are heavily entwined in the system of border and immigration policy and enforcement.

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Maddie has written 100 articles for us.


  1. ”to me this speaks to the broader question of, what sorts of actions are not criminalized?” Perfectly put.

  2. This is so amazingly surreal that Autostraddle is writing about this because:
    1. I live in Murrieta
    2. I attended to counter protest to the racist protest in question
    I have to agree, that it is not surprising this is how my city is reacting. I’ve (sadly) lived here all my life, and Murrieta has always been a place of homophobia, racism, and sexism.

    One thing I’ve heard a lot when at the counter protest was the Murrieta would not be turning away these children if they were right. And I totally agree.

    I just wanted to make sure you guys know we have been counter-protesting this racist bullshit! Many people like me are outraged that such prejudice is taking place on our own front lawn, it’s disgusting.

    • *EDIT!!! That they wouldn’t be turning away these children if they were WHITE, not right! Sorry for the mistake!

    • The high school has a gay-straight alliance club and the doors are always open to new comers. Murrieta is more diverse than what you are willing to tell. I don’t understand why you would lie about this city and the place you grew up. Is it because you want to fit in with the crowd? You are young and have so much to learn.

      • The gay straight alliance, while great continually has its posters torn down every single time they try to put them up.
        I was bullied in my high school for being gay before I even came out. The friends I had in high school are mostly gone now after I came out. Just because it has a gay-straight alliance doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

    • “So, Holly, according to you calling out racism is absurd and petty? Apparently most people on this website are absurd and petty, then.”

      Looks like this stirred you. hmm Here let me give you the last part of my statement…

      An indication that you are unable to productively contribute to a discussion on positive resolutions.

      • Golly gee, I know condescension and smarm are MY favorite ways to positively resolve disagreements.

    • Kacey- I don’t live in Murrieta but I’m involved with LA area immigrant rights groups, so I was at the fourth of July counter-protest and then the pro-migrant vigil last week. So good to see this stuff on Autostraddle! But also so sad to encounter such hatred at these protests… it became so clear to me that this hostility and debate has nothing to do with the children. I got yelled plenty of obscenities, and also heard protestors defend that they weren’t racist, that they were compassionate people… ignoring how this all has to do with race.

      I saw some high-school aged girls on the front of the anti-migrant protest lines, shouting hateful words, and that made me especially sad, to see young people with this kind of narrow worldview, and hoping that they’ll have that view challenged more.

      And the way police and law enforcement selectively targets political actions is appalling on it’s own, and so I thank Maddie for highlighting that here :)

  3. “No illeagles here.” – A good ol’ racism.

    This discrepancy in how protestors that block immigration proceedings are treated sends a clear signal that racist attitudes are tolerated, and are being both implicitly and explicitly endorsed by government officials, agencies and law enforcement. – What continues to piss me off the most. I heard one of these racist assholes tell me that this would all go away if ‘these people’ simply got their green cards. Yeah, cuz it’s soo fucking easy!

  4. El deseo de querer que sus hijos tengan una vida mejor en Estados Unidos es comprensible. Pero exponer a un niño no acompañado a los riesgos de la inmigración ilegal para alcanzar ese sueño son demasiado altos y los “permisos” no existen.

    • Sí, pero a mucha gente le parece mejor arriesgar que continuar con sus hijos en lugares con tantos problemas. ¿Qué decimos a gente que deja a sus hijos ir solos así? “No lo hagas, es peligroso” no funciona.

      • No puedo imaginar que los riesgos del viaje sean iguales a los riesgos altisimos que enfrentan en Honduras, El Salvador, y Guatemala — riesgos que van subiendo cada dia. Los padres no dicen “sueño que mi hij@ tenga una mejor vida alla.” Es “quiero que mi hij@ no muera aqui.”

        • Mis sentimientos exactamente. Ha llegado al punto de que este es el último recurso y no es una decisión tomada fácilmente.

  5. I am a Murrieta resident and hispanic. I have never experienced any racism here and find this small multi-ethnic place a very peaceful place to live. The schools here are great, their are churches everywhere, it is very family-oriented and one of the lowest crime-rate cities around. I was at one of the protests to observe both sides and as a a concerned resident to find out what was happening in my city. This article is sadly totally biased and untrue! Yes, people were shouting USA and no illegal immigrants, but that was it. We had churches on standby to help with food and such through our mayor, but was rejected by the FBI for any assistance. Now, I hardly find that racist. The opposition welcoming the immigrants; however, one they weren’t even from this city and two were very rude using foul language and made very unamerican statements with torn up flags. The media is having a field day putting down Murrieta citizens, but our city knows this is totally untrue and quite the opposite.

    • “Yes, people were shouting USA and no illegal immigrants, but that was it.”

      So Lupillo Rivera didn’t get spat in the face? So the fact that no one stopped the guy who did it doesn’t mean that those on his side are racist? So the occurrences in the video below are staged?

      • That mexican singer wasn’t helping the children. He was stirring the pot so he can have the publicity to make more money for himself. Duh They guy is a rich 1%er. You know the ones the left hate so much. Why dont you get out here to Murrieta and help out. Your federal tax dollars are not enough to cover what is needed for assistance. Don’t be like that mexican singer. Provide all your earning for these babies coming in. Your help is needed.

        • It’s doubtful that Rivera (who’s actually an American born in Long Beach, despite your repeated assertions) needs the extra publicity, seeing as he’s still in the middle of a media circus in the aftermath of his sister Jenni’s tragic death, but it would not be the first time one of your comments was factually shaky.

          And it’s strange how my tax dollars seem to be enough for killing people abroad, but not for helping people here. Believe me, if I could change that at a moment’s notice, or, for that matter, apparate to Murrieta from NY and aid the situation, I most definitely would. The way the situation stands now, though, it still doesn’t change the fact that the children’s reception was really fucking racist and that the alternative is worse (yes, even worse than being somewhere like Oakland or Chicago).

  6. Pretty sure my opinion is not going to be very popular but here goes… Regarding the I-word being used, what is wrong with it? It’s true. There are ways to come here to the US and be a legal immigrant and these people trying to cross the borders, all the hardships facing them, well, it comes along with being an illegal immigrant. I don’t blame the protesters for letting them know how they feel (but no to racism for sure). The government is spending so much money on the illegal immigrants and they don’t pay tax, work under the table and stuff. I am not blaming these people for trying to come here but it is not fair. My opinions are probably a little biased because I came here legally, I have a working visa and it is extremely hard for me to get a green card here even though I’m a law-abiding, tax-paying, productive member of the society.

    • The reason why using the term “illegal” is a no-go is because it labels humans as “illegal.” No human being is illegal. No one exists illegally. When people are tagged as “illegal” it contributes to a national environment that permits and justifies inhumane actions against immigrants who are in the US without documents. You can read more about this at Drop the I-Word. A better word to use is “undocumented.”

      • To add on to what Maddie said, “illegal” is also an inaccurate term, not “true.”

        Again from the Drop the i-Word Colorlines campaign that Maddie linked to in her article, here are the top 3 reasons to eradicate this hateful term:

        Reason #1 It’s dehumanizing. The i-word is shorthand for other harmful racially charged terms that dehumanize people. The i-word promotes violence and discrimination. It sends the message that immigrants are sub-human and undeserving.

        Reason #2 It’s racist. Use of the i-word affects attitudes toward immigrants and non-immigrants alike, most often toward people of African, Asian, and Latin American descent. The discriminatory message is not explicit, but hidden, or racially coded.

        Reason #3 It’s inaccurate legally and confuses the debate. Immigration judges and attorneys don’t use the i-word. Journalists who treat all transgressions as “alleged,” – a tenet of ethical and professional journalism, don’t use it either. The i-word finds many people guilty before they are tried and ignores the fact that our laws are unjustly applied. Immigrants without documents are regularly hired as cheap, exploited labor with a limited ability to protect their own rights. No one else who benefits from the set up, including the employers who recruit and hire these migrants, is labeled this way.

        The i-word is used to unfairly label and scapegoat people who are out of status due to a variety of systemic circumstances.

        Many undocumented immigrants are also law-abiding, tax-paying, productive members of society.

      • They are considered illegal. According to the Border patrol they have been told to come because there will be a free pass. When that is not true. Most of them are being deported. The MSN is not going to report that. You know the NY times is extremely left leaning. My question is…do you really want an open border?

    • I favor your opinion! We do have order and rules for immigrants to come into our country and this makes it safe for the Americans that live here. My husband came here patiently and legally to this country and is proud to be an American and does contribute to make it a better place. We all have the freedom to choose where to live in America, there are no borders within, so why can’t we work hard and simply enjoy the fruits of our labor, without having to worry about floods of foreign strangers who have not been processed legally in our cities. God bless America…the land that we love!

    • I literally received my US Employment Authorization Card from USCIS an hour ago. I first came to the US as a tourist, then as an international student. I have also had to deal with immigration systems from multiple other countries. By your standards, I am one of those “legal” immigrants you think are so much better than the people in this article.

      You do not speak for me.

      Immigration systems are often inhumane and corrupt to various people who are vulnerable – especially refugees. “Illegal” is a destructive term used to further harm and subjugate people who are already at their wit’s end.

      No one is illegal.

      I have experienced for myself how cruel Immigration systems can be – and I have the privilege of being able to afford the “legal” way. I shudder to think of what it would be to be detained as a refugee.

      I resent that my money is being used to justify human rights abuses. No one is illegal.

      • When people come over the border with no papers into the United States. They are considered illegal by the laws we have in place. Living by the law is something that we all do here in the United States. Its part of being a citizen here. Follow the law. Its simple. Yes the process is long and hard but if people come from an awful country its worth it right?

  7. Thank you so much for writing about this. As a first generation mexican-american, news stories about Murrieta strike close to home. I remember hearing people talk about “illegals,” the time “GO HOME” was written on our car, stories of deportations that filtered through our neighborhood….and we had it easy. Reading things like this makes my heart hurt. I remember how excited people in my community were about Obama and how bitter they are about it now. Now that we’re a large enough group, our votes matter, but I guess coming through for us still doesn’t.

  8. Este año habrá una cantidad récord de niños que cruzarán la frontera sur de los Estados Unidos de forma ilegal. Tan solo en el mes de mayo, la cantidad de niños no acompañados por su madre o su padre que cruzaron nuestra frontera sur alcanzó una cifra superior a los 9.000, con lo cual la cifra total en lo que va de año se acerca a los 47.000. La mayoría de dichos niños provienen de Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala, donde la violencia generada por las drogas y las pandillas aterroriza a la sociedad. Tengo un mensaje muy simple para los padres de esos niños: mandar a su hijo o hija a viajar ilegalmente a Estados Unidos no es la solución.

    Mandar a un niño a realizar el largo viaje desde América Central hasta Estados Unidos es peligroso. Las redes criminales de tráfico de personas que usted contrata para que lleven a su hijo a los Estados Unidos no tienen ninguna consideración por la seguridad y el bienestar de los niños: para ellos, su hijo es una mercancía a entregar a cambio de dinero. En manos de los contrabandistas, muchos niños experimentan situaciones traumáticas y sufren abusos psicológicos a causa del viaje; o, lo que es peor, son golpeados, mal alimentados, violados o vendidos en el mercado del sexo y se encuentran expuestos a todo tipo de abusos psicológicos por parte de criminales. A medida que aumentan las temperaturas en julio y agosto, las condiciones para intentar cruzar nuestra frontera sur empeorarán.

    El largo y arduo viaje no solo es peligroso, sino que no hay permisos o salvoconductos al final.

    El programa Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) del Gobierno de EE.UU., también conocido con el nombre de DACA, no aplica a los niños que crucen la frontera estadounidense de forma ilegal hoy, ni a los que cruzaron ayer o cruzarán mañana. Para cumplir con los requisitos de DACA, el niño debe haber entrado a Estados Unidos antes del 15 de junio de 2007, hace siete años.

    Además, la legislación de reforma migratoria que se encuentra actualmente en el Congreso ofrece un camino merecido a la ciudadanía, pero solo para determinadas personas que vinieron a este país antes del 31 de diciembre de 2011, inclusive (es decir, hace dos años y medio). Así que déjenme que sea claro: no hay ningún camino que lleve a acción diferida ni a la ciudadanía, ni tampoco hay ningún recurso que el Congreso esté contemplando, para un niño que cruza nuestra frontera de forma ilegal hoy.

    Por el contrario, conforme a las leyes y políticas actuales de EE.UU., cualquier persona que sea detenida al cruzar ilegalmente nuestra frontera estará sujeta a deportación prioritaria, independientemente de su edad. Esto significa que si su hija o hijo resulta detenido al cruzar la frontera de forma ilegal, será acusado de violar las leyes migratorias de Estados Unidos y se iniciará un proceso de deportación en su contra: una situación nada recomendable. El documento que se emite a nombre de su hijo no es un permiso, sino un aviso de comparecencia en un proceso de deportación ante un juez de inmigración.

    Como Secretario de Seguridad Nacional, he visto en persona a los niños en nuestro centro de procesamiento de Texas. Como padre, observé los rostros de esos niños y vi temor y vulnerabilidad.

    El deseo de querer que sus hijos tengan una vida mejor en Estados Unidos es comprensible. Pero exponer a un niño no acompañado a los riesgos de la inmigración ilegal para alcanzar ese sueño son demasiado altos y los “permisos” no existen.

    – Jeh C. Johnson es Secretario del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional de EE.UU.

  9. Coming over here illegal is against the law. There is nothing racist about that. The protesters have every right to send the buses back. Even though Murrieta churches wanted to reach out and did, There still is no room to adequately house these children that were coming in and some really sick. I find it really hard to believe that any of you on here are OK with having over 500 kids most with no parents to be sleep on a floor with only 1 bathroom. That is disgusting and extremely inhumane.

    Instead of calling people racist. How about finding a positive solution. The churchs are helping tremendously and they are getting plenty of money from your taxes to do so. However, That is only temporary until the money runs out or they will ask you to pay more in taxes. I am suggesting to send them back home and to reunify with their family. It must be awful for these kids to be torn from their families by the lure of someone telling them there is a free pass to be here when in the end that is not true.

    • “I find it really hard to believe that any of you on here are OK with having over 500 kids most with no parents to be sleep on a floor with only 1 bathroom. That is disgusting and extremely inhumane.”

      You know what’s worse? Living in a war zone with a greater threat of sexual assault or gruesome violence looming over you.

      • Marisol, We have the same issues here. Living on the streets of Chicago, Oakland, Detroit or many other cities that have high crimes will be no different. There is sexual assault here and gruesome violence here.

        From the reports of Border Patrol who have interviewed the kids, they are being lied to by someone telling them there is free pass when in fact there is not. The parents who are sending them need to be looked at for abuse to a child and a investigation needs to be conducted on who is telling these people there is a free pass.

    • These kids are scared enough as it is. Having a bunch of, sorry, but idiotic adults shouting racist bullshit is the last thing they need.

      You want a solution? We need some god damn immigration reform already. I started the process of becoming legal in this country back in ’89 and I didn’t get my work permit until 1999. It should not take this long.

    • Those buses are headed to Murrieta because of overcrowding. Protestors are forcing buses to turn back to even worse conditions. I’d also argue the protestor’s “right” to send the busses back infringes on the rights of those poor children to be given the best possible care. Or do they not get rights? Also, I highly doubt you believe the protestors forcibly rerouting busses are doing it because they care so much about those children. Why do you think they’re protesting?

      • They actually went to better conditions. The Churches are housing them and using your tax money (if you pay taxes) to make life better for them until they are deported. If you truly want to help find a local church.

Comments are closed.