Halfway between Los Angeles and Tijuana sits the city of Murrieta, a small community that prides itself on its safety records. Despite its rapidly growing population, Murrieta, home to some 100,000 residents, maintains a small-town feel and is proud to be ranked among the safest cities in the country.
But this small city became big news last week when Mayor Alan Long called a press conference to warn residents that Border Patrol would be busing 150 undocumented immigrants into the city to ease the strain on overflowing facilities elsewhere.
The mayor vowed to defend the community’s safety record against disease and crime, “regardless of the pending arrival of these illegal immigrants.” His comments triggered a xenophobic backlash from local chapters of the Minute Men and Tea Party, which took to the streets to block the arrival of the buses. Demonstrators echoed the mayor’s concerns about immigrants sapping government resources, and “Spanish-speaking children” overcrowding local classrooms.
Images of those protests circled the globe on the front pages of newspapers and on nightly news broadcasts. But most mainstream media overlooked the dedicated organizational work of local community groups, including those comprised of young undocumented immigrants and DREAMers, who scrambled to assist the newly arrived immigrants with food and housing.
The irony of Murrieta is that it was immigrant groups themselves, and not the government, that are asked to bear the burden and do most of the heavy lifting when it came to providing humanitarian assistance in Murrieta.