An overflow crowd in a Southern California community where protesters turned back Homeland Security buses filled with immigrants gave a loud, negative reception Wednesday night to a federal official behind the decision to make Murrieta a destination for the humanitarian effort.
Residents filled a 750-seat high school auditorium to capacity and spilled out into a parking lot, carrying signs with slogans like "Illegals today, Jihadists with Nukes tomorrow!!" One man scuffled with police after they stopped him from walking into the meeting draped in an American flag.
"Send them back! Send them back!" the special-meeting crowd chanted, shouting down Chief Border Patrol Agent Paul Beeson after he took responsibility for transferring the Central American children and families to Murrieta from Texas, where facilities can no longer handle the influx of people.
On Tuesday, the buses were rerouted an hour south to San Diego after they were met with flag-waving protesters in Murrieta.
The Wednesday night crowd groaned when Beeson said four of the immigrants had to be hospitalized, two with scabies and two with fever.
Beeson said he did not know where Tuesday's immigrants and several more groups slated to arrive from Texas in coming days will end up.
"We will make decisions when they arrive where it makes the most sense to put them," he said.
The bus riders' journey is part of a federal government effort to deal with a flood of Central American children and families fleeing to the United States to escape violence and extortion from gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Last week, U.S. authorities announced a plan to fly migrants from the Rio Grande Valley to Texas cities and Southern California.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained after crossing the Texas-Mexico border since October in what President Barack Obama has called a humanitarian crisis.
Obama announced Monday that in the absence of congressional action, he plans to move forward with his own executive actions to address the long-stymied issue of immigration reform.
At the meeting, Murrieta Mayor Alan Long told residents he had been advised by U.S. officials to expect another group of about 140 immigrants every three days for several weeks. Long, who urged locals to oppose the immigrant transfer plan before it began, said he intended to "send Washington a big fat bill" for the city's expenses.
"Change needs to occur at the federal level in many ways," he said to a loud ovation.
Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone was wildly cheered after calling for secure borders and denouncing what he called the "exploitation" by the federal government of the traumatized women and children immigrants.
Another group of roughly 140 immigrants arrived from Texas for processing on Wednesday, but they were sent to El Centro, more than 140 miles away, and were met without incident.
Al Jazeera and wire services