“Stop the invasion! Seal the border!” read the homemade signs at a protest over the weekend. “Americans before illegals!”
But the hundreds of demonstrators who turned out to protest their governor’s offer to house up to 1,000 undocumented immigrant children weren’t in Texas—they were gathered outside the State House in Boston.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services scrambles to accommodate the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed into the U.S. illegally this year, most of them from Central America, the anti-immigrant pushback that first reared its ugly head near the border is now sprouting up across the country.
It started at the beginning of this month in Murrieta, a small town 60 miles north of San Diego. Running out of space at detention centers near the border in Texas, Border Patrol had begun sending undocumented adults and children to facilities in Arizona and California for processing. On a bus from San Diego to a Border Patrol outpost in Murrieta, about 140 detained migrants, mostly women and children, were greeted by shouting, angry protesters led by the town’s mayor, Alan Long. Long and his constituents got their way: The buses turned around and the unwanted immigrants aboard them were taken elsewhere.
Local and national immigration advocates denounced the Murrieta protest. Still, the anti-immigrant outrage on display that day would prove to be not limited to a few extremists in a small California town but shared by Americans in very different corners of the country, from the Southwest to the East Coast.
For the weekend of July 19, conservative groups American Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC), Overpasses for America, and Make Them Listen organized more than 300 demonstrations in cities around the country to protest President Obama’s handling of the immigration crisis. More than 4,000 people RSVP’d “yes” to the National Day of Protesting Against Immigration Reform Amnesty & Border Surge on Facebook, yet news reports of small gatherings in Columbus and Fort Myers suggest, unsurprisingly, that far more people were willing to share their anti-immigrant views online than on the street.
That same weekend, in Providence, Rhode Island, one group of immigrants’ rights advocates went up against members of an anti-immigration coalition, simultaneously rallying for and against housing unaccompanied Central American children in their state.
This time around, however, the organized militias and nativist groups that have been at the forefront of previous anti-immigration movements are taking a back seat, U.S. News and World Report reports. Instead, everyday Americans are taking it upon themselves to push back against the relocation of undocumented immigrants to their communities. Rather than extremist leaders, elected officials such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey are fueling the movement by spreading factually inaccurate and fearful rumors. Among them: that undocumented immigrants are responsible for more than 3,000 homicides in the U.S. since 2008 and that the recent wave of migrants who recently crossed our southern border have brought with them “deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis.”
More than 57,000 immigrant children, the vast majority of them from Central America, have entered the United States without a parent or guardian so far this year. Short of Congress passing a law within the next few days that allows minors from noncontiguous countries to be deported almost immediately after apprehension, it is up to the U.S. government to provide or find appropriate housing for these kids as they undergo immigration court proceedings. That means more cities and towns will be faced with the decision of whether to welcome these stateless young people with open arms or push them away. The protests that have popped up so far suggest the decision won’t be unanimous.