Protests spread north over unaccompanied migrant children coming to 'our town'

The World
New Hampshire Protest

In Rochester, New Hampshire, a couple of dozen people gathered on a highway overpass waving American flags and holding homemade signs that read “No Amnesty” and “Stop Illegal Immigration.” The point of that — and other protests over the weekend across the US — was to keep undocumented migrant kids out of the community.

And even though there are no public plans to temporarily house migrant children in New Hampshire, those protesting says they don’t trust the government.

“They’re bussing them up here,” said Desiree Tumas, expressing what a lot of people here said. They believe the government is secretly bringing migrants into the US and possibly New Hampshire.

"They're sneaking them in all over the place, so naturally we're afraid," said protestor Mona Perreault.

Protests like this happened across the US this past weekend, prompted by fear and anger.

New Hampshire Protest
Protestors gathered on a New Hampshire highway overpass. Many said they were worried that the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America will bring "contagious diseases."

Jason Margolis

"The question is: 'Are any of them coming to Ohio?' And if so, how come we don't know about it?" said Tom Zawistowski, who helped organize protests in northern Ohio. "How many people are coming? Where are they? Where are they going?"

The US Department of Health & Human Services says it has only opened three temporary shelters: at military bases in Texas, California, and Oklahoma.

Most of the crowd in New Hampshire were retirees, Tea Party members and other hard-line conservatives that rally against the government on a lot of issues. Like many, Tumas, who helped organize the protest, was angry that her tax dollars might be spent on what’s happening at the border.

“We’re supposed to welcome them all in? And we cannot support and house our homeless, families living in tents inside of the woods. When are they going to wake up? We can’t handle it,” said Tumas. “I’m not against immigration. We have immigration laws, and they need to be followed.”

Tumas was also worried about drugs and violent gang members coming across the border.

“It needs to be stopped, we can’t handle the gang violence we already have,” she said.

I heard that argument a lot. I asked the protestors about the migrant children and their mothers who claim to be fleeing gang violence in Central America, coming from countries with the highest murder rates in the world. Should they be allowed to apply for refugee status in the US? The typical answer was simple: Not our problem.

“Mexico let them in, then Mexico should take them,” said Jerry DeLemus.

While protests fanned across the nation, there were also mounting voices in support of creating local temporary shelters for unaccompaned migrant children, such as plans put forward by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

On the flip side, one town in Texas — League City — passed a pre-emptive resolution refusing to shelter undocumented migrant children.

DeLemus, and others at the New Hampshire rally, said the wave of children at the border is an orchestrated political stunt by the Obama Administration, a sentiment echoed by right-wing blogs, to bring new voters into the US, voters who will presumably vote Democrat.

Protestor Billy Baer said things don’t stop there.

“Read ‘The Communist Manifesto.’ This is no secret what’s happening, it’s only a secret to people who don’t understand what’s going on,” said Baer. “This is all going according to plan, and it’s a great plan — it’s about overwhelming the systems to bring down the destruction of the United States.”

Mona Perreault expressed a more immediate fear. “I’m hearing about contagious diseases, leprosy, scabies, etc.,” she said.

The US Department of Health & Human Services says on its web site that all apprehended migrant children are screened for communicable disease and mental health issues, and quarantined if necessary.

As I was walking away from the protest, a 12-year-old girl, Adana, asked if she could add a few words.

“Obama should step down or start to follow the rules because all these illegal people coming into the state is going to really mess things up, because then a whole bunch of little girls or boys, people [in New Hampshire] are going to be killed, kidnapped and tortured. We don’t know what’s going to go on when the illegal people are coming,” she said. “We want the borders closed and have them go back to their rightful homes, or better yet in jail.”

A spokesperson with the Department of Health & Human Services, Kenneth Wolfe, wrote me by e-mail that the federal government is working with states and local organizations to find locations for temporary shelters. He said facilities will be announced when they are “identified as viable options.”

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