A group of 140 Central American migrants who entered the United States illegally were flown from Texas to Lindbergh Field Tuesday and then bused to a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Riverside County, where crowds of angry protesters prompted authorities to take them instead to San Ysidro.

The drivers of the three Department of Homeland Security coaches backed away from the Murrieta Border Patrol station and got onto southbound Interstate 15 in the late afternoon, re-entering San Diego County about 3:30 p.m.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack declined to disclose where the migrants were being taken, but by late afternoon, the buses were seen pulling into a Customs and Border Protection facility in San Ysidro.

The departure of the migrants from the Riverside area marked a victory for the roughly two dozen protesters who had gathered to decry the foreigners’ arrival there, many waving flags and others carrying signs reading “Stop Illegal Immigration” and “Return to Sender.”

A small band of immigrant supporters also made a showing outside the Murrieta facility, but their shouts were largely drowned out by the opposing camp.

The group of migrants had flown into San Diego aboard a chartered flight about noon.

The migrants are mostly “adults with children” and were among tens of thousands of citizens of Central American countries who have poured into the United States via Texas this year.

The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector has been overwhelmed by the arrivals, prompting the Homeland Security to seek other locations to send them until their cases can be assessed. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama declared the surge in immigrant children an “urgent humanitarian situation,” and directed federal agencies to coordinate a response.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s El Centro and San Diego sectors are about to begin assisting with the processing of migrants apprehended in South Texas, many of whom are adults with children,” the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, said statement released Monday.

“CBP will transfer certain individuals to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Removal Operations, where appropriate custody determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing national security and public safety.”

The ICE statement specified that Murrieta would be the end point for “processing” the individuals, noting that they “may be released with instructions to report to a local office near their destination address within 15 days.”

Following Tuesday’s standoff in Murrieta, ICE officials said that once the migrants are processed, they will be taken to a “transition center” in Riverside County set up by a faith-based organization that would help the migrants arrange transportation to their final destinations and help them contact family members.

Murrieta Mayor Alan Long told concerned residents during a town hall meeting Monday that the city had coordinated with the Border Patrol to ensure the anticipated influx didn’t create an untenable situation locally.

He expressed frustration that the federal government was moving its “headache” to Riverside County but assured residents that the individuals set to arrive don’t have criminal backgrounds.

“This is a failure to enforce federal law at the federal level,” Long said. “Murrieta continues to object to the transfer of illegal immigrants to the local Border Patrol office.”

Officials said more migrants could be brought to Southern California in as soon as 72 hours.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.

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