The Murrieta town hall meeting: Good effort. Wrong officials. Wrong answers. *UPDATE*

The Murrieta town hall meeting: Good effort. Wrong officials. Wrong answers. *UPDATE*

[See the update with important breaking news at the end.]

I live in the area and was able to attend the town hall meeting held in Murrieta, California Wednesday night, after the protest on 1 July that prevented busloads of illegal immigrants from being dropped off at the Murrieta Border Patrol station.

I’ll go into more detail below.  But here is the executive summary:

Mayor Alan Long of Murrieta put together a panel of hard-working officials, each of whom is doing his best.  The panelists and the citizens all got a mostly respectful hearing.  The panelists provided a number of useful answers, but none of those answers addressed the root problem.

The answers did make clear, if inadvertently, that the U.S. federal government is literally focusing its efforts on processing illegals into the United States, where it is fully understood they will be unsupervised.  As one lady said to the ICE agent on the panel, “You’re basically acting as coyotes for these people.”

Mayor Long stressed that only the federal government can fix the root problem.  But he inaccurately identified the fix as “immigration reform”: legislation on which Democrats and Republicans have to come together.  We don’t need immigration reform to deal with the current crisis.  All the laws we need are already on the books.

The protesters who had turned out to block the buses the day before – many of whom were at the meeting last night – recognized that the town hall meeting has changed nothing, and that the Border Patrol intends to keep trying to deliver illegals to the Murrieta station for processing.  So they plan to continue protesting and blocking buses.  The next delivery is expected on 4 July, probably late at night.

One note to follow-up the 1 July story.  The buses that were turned away from the Murrieta station went first to San Ysidro, on the border near San Diego.  Local news crews followed the buses there and gave an update on the late news on Tuesday.  The buses left San Ysidro with the illegals onboard shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning.  News crews attempted to follow them onto the expressway to their destination, but Border Patrol vehicles blocked the on-ramp for several minutes so that the news vehicles couldn’t pursue the buses.  The news organizations were unable to confirm where the illegals were taken.  Video below.

Now to particulars.

Atmosphere of the event.  The meeting was held in the performing arts center auditorium at Murrieta Mesa High School, so there was plenty of parking.  At least 1,000 people showed up, only 750 of whom could get into the auditorium.  (There may have been more like 1,500 people, based on the number who were still standing in line outside after the auditorium was filled.  I arrived almost an hour early and waited in line for about half an hour to get in.)

The media were lined up in huge numbers outside the entrance to the auditorium.  I counted at least 16 big media vehicles (including all the national cable news channels) and dozens of cameras.  There were about two dozen media cameras set up inside.

The crowd was quite orderly.  Many people had brought flags, but were told they couldn’t take them into the auditorium.  One person near me in line said he was told that the city council doesn’t allow the public to bring any kind of demonstration items, such as placards or flags, lest someone in attendance be offended.  There were, of course, American flags displayed behind the speaker’s lectern and the panelists’ table.

Some readers may have seen news clips of a hefty bald man angrily confronting the police because he wasn’t allowed to wear something into the auditorium.  He had taken a Gadsden flag and attached it around his shoulders like a cape, but was not allowed to wear it inside that way.  I was entering the auditorium just as this confrontation was taking place, and I didn’t see the outcome of that little incident.

Sartorially inadmissible.  (Image: San Bernardino Sun, Micah Escamilla)
Sartorially inadmissible. (Image: San Bernardino Sun, Micah Escamilla)

The crowd inside cheered loudly for calls for law and order.  The biggest cheer of the night was for the protesters from the previous day.  The applause and cheers were so thunderous and spontaneous, when the protests were first mentioned, that I nearly jumped out of my skin.  There were also big cheers when the mayor affirmed that he was for legal immigration, and that this wasn’t about race or ethnicity.

He got huge applause as well when he condemned an incident from the 1 July protests in which an anti-illegal protester had spit on someone.  (Note:  this incident has been described by the media as one protester spitting on another protester – a pro-illegal protester – but we heard from the man who was spit on late in the evening, and as he recounted it, he wasn’t there for the protest.  He was driving by and had stopped a few minutes before to see what was going on.  A friend of the spitter spoke shortly afterward and said the spitter had apologized.)

"USA! USA!" Standing O for the protesters' 1 July action at the BP station. (Robert Kovacik, NBC-LA)
“USA! USA!” Standing O for the protesters’ 1 July action at the BP station. (Robert Kovacik, NBC-LA)

The crowd was a mix of races and ethnic backgrounds. The overwhelming majority were there to register opposition to illegal immigration, and concern about public officials bending or twisting the law to accommodate it.

The meeting went on for four and a half hours.  Most of the time was spent with the panel taking questions from the public.

Officials in attendance.  There were opening statements from the mayor, who chaired the meeting, and from the panelists:

County Supervisor Jeff Stone, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

Chief Patrol Agent Paul Beeson of the Border Patrol San Diego Sector

Murrieta Chief of Police Sean Hadden

Field Director David Jennings, ICE Los Angeles Field Office

Deputy Director Peter Lent, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County Public Health Officer

We also heard from Murrieta Councilmember Rick Gibbs, who provided a brief timeline of when and how the city heard about the plan to process illegals in Murrieta.

Major topics of discussion.  The character of the information from the panelists can be summed up briefly:  they explained to us what they’re doing to deal with the crisis they’ve been handed.

Much of what they’re doing is egregiously displeasing to the audience in attendance last night, so there was definitely some booing.  Mayor Long stepped in several times to remind the audience that it’s the president and Congress who have the power to change U.S. policy, not the guys on the stage.

The core topics were (1) why the Murrieta plan was put in place; (2) what the process is supposed to be; and (3) what the county and the Murrieta police force are doing.  Readers all over America are likely to have an interest in understanding this, because it could well be coming to a facility near you.  Read on for why.

Why Murrieta

The plan was put in place as an administrative decision within the Department of Homeland Security about how to handle the overwhelming influx at the Texas border.  Instead of rushing assets to Texas to deal with it, DHS decided to distribute the processing workload across Border Patrol sectors.

Yes, this is mind-blowingly idiotic – if the goal is to turn back the influx.  Doing things this way means moving the problem around – i.e., the massive number of illegals – into all parts of the country.  As Chief Beeson of the Border Patrol explained it, the illegals being flown into San Diego from Texas have been processed only to the most superficial degree.  The more intensive level of processing, which takes between 45 minutes and 2-3 hours per individual, has been “distributed” to the other Border Patrol sectors.  The illegals are being flown to the other sectors before that processing takes place.

Explaining the inexcusable. (Image via ABC 10 SD)
Explaining the inexcusable. (Image via ABC 10 SD)

They are then moved to designated facilities within the sector to undergo the processing.  From Chief Beeson’s perspective – having been handed this problem to manage – his best option is moving the illegals to the non-front-line stations.  Murrieta, in the San Diego sector, is one of those stations because it’s further from the border.  The stations closer to the border are front-line stations where the focus of the agents’ effort has to be on preventing the entry of criminals and drugs from Mexico.  (Beeson did note, later in the evening, that this is far from a perfect solution.  Although he is managing risk the best he can, the risk is still elevated, because everyone he details to process the illegals is unavailable for front-line border security operations.)

Who made the decision to handle things this way?  Clearly the decision was made in Washington, presumably in the hierarchy at DHS.  If Beeson (or ICE Director Jennings) knew the name of the decision-maker, they weren’t saying.  (One woman explicitly asked, but neither federal employee answered her question.)

Supervisor Stone and Director Jennings both mentioned, however, that it was on Friday evening, 27 June, when local officials were informed that this general policy was definitely going to be implemented.  That was coincident with Obama’s speech on the border crisis last week.  (According to Mr. Gibbs of the Murrieta City Council, the first time anyone heard about the potential for this plan was on 4 June.  Local officials thought it had been nixed, however, until they got the “Friday afternoon” bad-news dump on the 27th.)

The process

Perhaps the most useful nugget of the night came from the discussion of the process for handling the illegals – although the nugget wasn’t emphasized, and I don’t know how many people caught it.

First off, when the illegals arrive, if they come from an “other than Mexico” (OTM) nation, they can’t simply be turned around and sent back over the border.  Of the 201,000 illegals who have crossed into Texas since 1 October 2013, 77% have been “OTM.”  (As an interesting aside, given Renee Nal’s post today on the Romanian illegal whose government-issued ID bracelet was found in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Texas, Director Jennings of ICE mentioned specifically that there have been Chinese and Romanians among the OTMs – apparently indicating that their numbers are significant enough to warrant attention.)

ICE Director Jennings said many of the OTMs do get sent back to their countries of origin.  We’re chartering 16-20 flights each week to fly illegals back to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  Yes, you’re paying for that.

But if the illegals speak the magic words, indicating essentially that they fear persecution in their home countries, and want asylum in the U.S. and a date with an immigration judge, U.S. policy is that they are to be kept here until the judge has seen them.  This is why we don’t just load them on a plane or ship, the day they arrive, and send them back.

But here’s the kicker.  We have facilities for holding male and female adults who enter the U.S. seeking asylum.  We don’t have any such facilities for families or unaccompanied children.  If an illegal enters with a minor child, or if a child enters unaccompanied, the only real option the U.S. government has made for itself at this point is releasing the illegals to await their court dates on their own recognizance.*

Word on this is obviously getting out: show up with a minor and the U.S. won’t have any place to put you.  It will send you on to the destination of your choice in the United States while you await the immigration judge.

This is in fact how Director Jennings kept referring to it: “getting these people on the bus to wherever they were heading.”  They’re coming into the U.S. with specific destinations in mind, on the assumption that, as long as they have children (or the children themselves are unaccompanied), they’ll be allowed to proceed to those destinations.  According to Jennings, the great majority of the illegals have the funds to buy their own bus tickets, once they’ve been processed.

So, the process.  The Border Patrol’s responsibility is to sort out and detain the possible criminal element (which is done in Texas), enable the CDC to identify anyone who is obviously sick (which didn’t entirely get done in Texas on the first run to California this week), and muster the illegals to hand them over to ICE.  Because of the “management” decision at DHS, that mustering step now involves chartering planes and buses to move the illegals to a processing station somewhere else in the United States.

ICE’s administrative responsibility is to get the illegals recorded in the system and assigned a court date with a judge.  The procedural outcome for the great majority of the illegals is turning them over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, part of the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services).  ORR and HHS are supposed to be concerned about health and welfare.  But once the illegals are in a location in the U.S., their health and welfare become a problem for the county as well.

More on that in a minute.  ICE’s hand-off responsibility includes transporting the illegals to a bus station so they can proceed to “wherever they were heading,” and then – in theory – tracking them down if they don’t show up for their court date.

The fact that there’s a federal agency for every step of this process, and the process exploits our existing law – by grossly overusing the “asylum” pretext – can be seen by bureaucrats as overlaying a veil of legitimacy on it.  This is one of the factors at the core of the disconnect between the government and the citizens.  To the citizen’s eye, it’s blatantly apparent that the law is being used to produce the opposite of the outcome it’s supposed to.  But the bureaucratic apparatus has so many moving parts that the manager of each part can feel like he’s doing his job, and fulfilling his responsibility under the law, regardless of what the end result is.

County and city

An influx of people is obviously a problem for the local authorities, and those officials talked last night about what they’re doing to prepare for it.  The two major areas of concern were law enforcement and health.

The police chief, Mr. Hadden, made a big impression when he vowed that the police would track closely the movements of the illegals between the Border Patrol station and the transportation terminals they might be taken to.  He and Mayor Long were both very clear that no one would be allowed to simply wander off from a bus station.  (That said, it will be interesting to see how this promise is kept, since Murrieta doesn’t have a central bus station.  The illegals will be headed to various parts of the country, and will need to leave the area from different points of embarkation.  I’m not clear on how feasible it will be to keep eyeballs on each one of them until he or she is on a bus.)

The line of those who didn't get in. (Robert Kovacik, NBC-LA)
The line of those who didn’t get in. (Robert Kovacik, NBC-LA)

The Murrieta police had 26 officers deployed to the Border Patrol station on 1 July – more than a normal city-wide shift, and an unsustainable number for the long haul.  The city has no way of knowing how long this will go on.  Keeping extra officers deployed will mean enormous costs in overtime.  A glancing reference was made to cooperation from the county sheriff, but the county’s resources will quickly be overrun as well, if a delivery of illegals every 72 hours requires a sustained emergency-level deployment of law-enforcement personnel.

Meanwhile, the discussion of the health issue was troubling.  Supervisor Stone had been briefed that out of the 140 illegals whose buses were diverted to San Diego on 1 July, four of the children ended up being sent to the hospital.  Two had fevers and two had scabies.  These conditions weren’t caught by the initial screening in Texas – so we already know of one charter plane and potentially two buses that have had scabies-infected humans occupying seats in them.

Dr. Kaiser, the public health officer for Riverside County, had a mobile hospital on-site which he hoped to set up to examine the bus passengers on 1 July.  The Border Patrol wasn’t prepared for that preventive action by the county, and denied permission for the mobile unit to operate at the BP station, pending a decision from higher authority.  As of last night, no one seemed to have word yet on whether DHS would authorize the county to set up its mobile hospital to process the illegals.

Kaiser would be making things up as he goes along, in any case, there being no manual for what counties are supposed to do to deal with illegals escorted into the county by the federal government.  The default situation for the county is illegals who are under the radar until their children need to attend the public schools.  It’s only when the requirements for school attendance come into play that the county’s responsibility is invoked.  At that point, the standard is well defined: the children have to be vaccinated and certified to be free of communicable diseases.

What will be the scope of the county’s public health responsibility to its residents, with the influx of illegals?  Basically, Riverside County foresees the need to perform the function that was performed at Ellis Island in the heyday of 20th century immigration.  Counties didn’t perform that function, however; Ellis Island was a federal preserve, and all the public-health processing was done there before the immigrants got to their counties of residence.

But the DHS policy of distributing the processing workload among Border Patrol sectors means that this problem could very well be coming to your county and your town.

Better ideas

Supervisor Stone outlined an obviously much better idea for a different administrative approach to the border influx.  It wouldn’t require any new legislation from Congress.  All it would require is execution.

The proposal is to put together a modular, deployable immigrant-processing package that could be moved wherever it was needed on the border to deal with an influx right where it’s happening.  It would include shelter facilities, mobile clinics, and the law enforcement and judicial apparatus to handle an elevated number of illegals requesting asylum.

My own comment:  Along with this modular package, the president could of course activate the National Guard to assist the Border Patrol.  One of the military capabilities resident in the National Guard, moreover, is setting up personnel services: temporary shelters, potable water, waste management, and food.  Whether it’s the Guard or FEMA, there is plenty of capability in the U.S. federal government to provide temporary shelter.

The mention of FEMA is another important point, as a majority of Americans would probably agree the border crisis is an emergency.  Yet it has not been declared to be one.  And this brings up one more question: where is Governor Jerry Brown while all this is going on?

No presence from the state or federal policy-maker level

Supervisor Stone was the only public official at the meeting who had visibility on that, and his information was discouraging, if not surprising.  Unlike his counterparts in Arizona and Texas, Jerry Brown is basically ignoring what’s happening to the cities and counties in his state.  The state of California isn’t doing anything to intervene on behalf of Riverside County or Murrieta – or San Diego, for that matter, or El Centro (which like Murrieta is supposed to receive regular shipments of illegals for distributed processing), or Ventura County, where several hundred unaccompanied minors are being housed now at a Navy facility at Port Hueneme.

The only two panelists from the federal government last night were employees from the management but not the policy level.  There were no congressional representatives, and no policy-makers from DHS or the Border Patrol.

Bottom line

Everyone had to leave last night knowing that federal policy would continue unchanged.  The Border Patrol will keep trying to deliver busloads of illegals to the Murrieta station.  According to the logic of their various operating procedures, the agencies are doing what they’re required to do.  It literally does not matter to the federal government, as it is currently being run, that the end result is completely at odds with what the people – the citizens and taxpayers – think they are paying for.

So the protesters will continue their effort as well.  There is a significant similarity between the Bundy ranch crisis and the confrontation in Murrieta, and it’s this.  In each case, the federal entity trying to impose its will is an executive agency, which is using an arm that doesn’t have police power in the specific situation at hand, to try to do something that is arguably unconstitutional, but which some appointed officials up the chain of command believe themselves empowered to do.

They’re operating in what our 20th-century governmental traditions would now consider a gray area for the use of police power.  (The 19th century was a different story.)  That’s why the BLM pulled back from the Bundy ranch.  It’s why Bundy has yet to be slapped with a lien for his unpaid fines.  It’s why the Border Patrol turned the buses around in Murrieta on Tuesday: because the Border Patrol has no police power to move the citizens of Murrieta on a city street, and the local police didn’t order them to make way for the buses.  The Border Patrol turned the buses around rather than trying to force that issue.

We don’t know what the authorities of Murrieta, under tremendous pressure, will do the next time.  Or the next.  But there’s a bigger picture still, and it’s what will matter in the end.  The high-handed wielding of federal agencies against the people in this manner is a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle.  The people have seen it in action now.  It’s not just a hypothetical concern.  And that’s why Mayor Long’s solution – the people pressing Congress for immigration reform – is woefully inadequate to the real problem before us.

We have passed a point of instability in the federal government’s implied contract of integrity and respect with the people.  The federal government has broken faith with us.  The people continue to abide by the law, while the federal government quite literally uses the law’s half-breed offspring – bureaucratic, regulatory procedure – against us.

The Band-Aid of a fresh round of legislation won’t fix what ails us.  That’s not the answer.  America needs a reset.  We’ve come to the end of the trail, in terms of how far we can sustain the “old consensus” method: overlaying collectivism on liberty by creating bureaucracies and running up debt.  The bill has come due, and it’s far more than we can afford.  The protesters at the Murrieta Border Patrol station are just some of the ordinary Americans who see that clearly.

* UPDATE *:  I received a breaking notification while posting this that a group of illegals is to be bused to the Murrieta Border Patrol station tonight, the night of 3-4 July.  This would be about 24 hours earlier than the local citizens were given to expect at the town hall meeting.  I understand that protesters will be rallying overnight at the BP station at 26762 Madison Ave.  More on this as I know it.

How righteous can your deeds be, if you have to try to sneak them past the people in the dead of night?


* The very first family detention center to be operated by the federal government is being prepared now in Artesia, New Mexico, a development that was announced on 20 June.  No date has been given for the facility’s opening.  It will reportedly have 700 beds.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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