Ask Mark Twain

     Never in my life did I think I would write a column in praise of the Border Patrol. But here it is.
     Thousands of refugee children are crossing the Texas border illegally, being arrested, then bused thousands of miles hither and yon to face deportation hearings across our nation. This is a grave humanitarian crisis. It’s a legal crisis as well.
     These children and their mothers are human beings. Many of them have fled de facto war between drug cartels and lawless governments as corrupt as the drug lords.
     But these mothers and children do not present a threat to us. They are terrified, brutalized people.
     They do not present a threat to the Southern California town where I live, Murrieta, which found itself in the national and international news last week after a phony, set-up “protest” by right-wing zealots kept three buses full of refugees from entering the Murrieta Border Patrol station.
     The refugees arrested in Texas have no effect on Southern California and Murrieta. None. No economic effect, no threats of violence; they’re not coming here to “take our jobs,” despite the brayings of the organized zealots who buffaloed the national media last week – including The New York Times and L.A. Times – which “covered” the sham “protest” as though the sky were falling.
     I’ve lived in Murrieta, on and off, for 20 years. I used to be city editor of the local daily newspaper. I know this town pretty well. The “protest” that made the news was as phony as a square grape. One minute’s search on the Internet will show you who was behind it, and why. They are bragging about it. I will not give them any ink, or soil my mouth with their names.
     I’ve been covering immigration issues for 30 years. In fact, I wrote the first history of U.S. immigration prisons, 20 years ago. It’s not my purpose today to nail anyone’s hide to the wall, and Border Patrol and immigration officials whom I would like to praise today would be unlikely to thank me for the favor. I am no fan of these agencies.
     But the Border Patrol is just doing its job. It is cowardly and dishonest to put them in the middle of a phony “crisis,” which is not a crisis at all, in Murrieta, to try to score political points, to stir up venom against helpless people.
     Here’s what happened. The right wing got a tip that three buses of refugees were being sent to Murrieta to be processed at the Border Patrol station. So they ginned up a “protest” about it. They hollered that the children were bringing “diseases,” that they would “bankrupt” Murrieta.
     And the national media quoted them, like so many literate sheep.
     Murrieta Mayor Alan Long, who otherwise has done a fine job representing the city during this fiasco, then called a community meeting, and, playing to the crowd, said he was going to send Washington, D.C., “a big fat bill.”
     Long didn’t know what he was talking about. Processing these refugees through the Border Patrol station would not cost Murrieta a cent. It’s a federal operation, top to bottom. The children and mothers would have been here for a few hours, and then sent on somewhere else.
     I’ve talked to Customs and Border Protection officials about this, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the county sheriff, to Border Patrolmen on the street, to City Hall and on and on.
     This “protest” that made international news was a publicity stunt. It put Border Patrolmen at risk. It tarnished the reputation of a city that had nothing to do with the issue, and it made monkeys out of the national media, including The New York Times.
     I asked a Border Patrol spokesman why my fellow reporters got this story so wrong.
     “You know why?” he said. “Cause nobody’s going there.”
     The Murrieta Border Patrol station is on a lonely stretch of road, half a mile past the Wal-Mart. No one was there this week except two Border Patrolmen who politely asked me not to come in, and a Fox TV news van.
     So who were these “protesters”? I’ll tell you who they were, and why they came here. Actually, I will let Mark Twain tell you. Twain wrote these words 150 years ago, in a chapter of “Roughing It,” in which he discussed his generation’s despised immigrants, the Chinese people who built California.
     “They are a kindly disposed, well-meaning race, and are respected and well treated by the upper classes all over the Pacific coast,” Twain wrote. “No Californian gentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances … . Only the scum of the population do it – they and their children; they, and, naturally and consistently, the … politicians, likewise, for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum, there as elsewhere in America.”

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