MURRIETA, Calif. -- Protesters on Tuesday blocked three busloads of immigrant families being transferred to a federal facility in Riverside County.
More than 100 people waving American flags and holding signs that opposed "new illegals" waited in the hot sun for the three charter buses to arrive at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Murrieta, about an hour north of San Diego.
Federal agents tried to avoid a conflict by taking a route that steered clear of the front entrance.
But instead, the crowd blocked the street and forced the buses to make an unplanned detour to an undisclosed processing center in San Diego County.
"We can't start taking care of others if we can't take care of our own," said protester Nancy Greyson, 60, of Murrieta.
Tuesday's scene provided a chaotic start to the federal government's plan to help alleviate overcrowded facilities in Texas' Rio Grande Valley by transferring immigrant families into Southern California.
El Centro, Calif., is expected to receive a similar transfer of families Wednesday.
"It's not humanitarian what they're doing here," said Ron Zermeno, a union representative for the Border Patrol agents in Murrieta who serves as the station's health director.
Tuesday's transfer was supposed involve 140 people being flown into San Diego and taken by bus to Murrieta.
After the families were processed, Border Patrol union representatives told The Desert Sun the plan was to drive the immigrants in vans to bus stops in Perris, San Bernardino and Menifee.
Gabe Pacheco, an agent and representative with the Border Patrol union, called the process "de facto amnesty."
Border Patrol agents said the families were mostly made up of women and young children.
For days, officials in both Murrieta and El Centro have warned that they didn't have the resources needed to handle the influx of families.
Ron Zermeno — the union representative for the Border Patrol agents in Murrieta who serves as the station's health director — said he had serious concerns about whether the station could handle even the first wave of families.
The Murrieta station, Zermeno said, has no dining or dorm facilities to accommodate anyone detained for a long period of time.
"It's chaos. It's going to be a mess," he said.
All of the Murrieta station's available resources, including the patrol dogs, were being reassigned to this effort.
After the buses were rerouted to San Diego, union leaders said the Murrieta station staff would be sent south as well.
Diane Serafin of Murrieta got to the Murrieta station at 7:30 a.m., just as the crowd started to gather for the day.
Serafin said she considered it her patriotic duty to protest the processing.
"Nobody in Washington is listening to us," she said.
Tensions in the crowd increased as it grew in number. Shouting matches ensued as protesters clashed with immigration reform supporters like Lupillo Rivera, who was among those trying to launch a counter-protest.
"We are your baby-sitters, we clean your hotels, we baby-sit your kids," screamed Rivera.
San Diego-based Border Angels, a nonprofit that aims to bring relief to day laborers and immigrants, is working with San Diego officials to establish housing sites for displaced immigrants who have no family.
"I agree with what President Obama said recently about this being a humanitarian crisis and, if we (think) this is a humanitarian crisis, then we need a humanitarian solution," Enrique Morones, president and founder of Border Angels, said outside of the Menifee station.
Just sending back children and deporting immigrants, "that is not a humanitarian solution," he said.
Since October, the Rio Grande has seen an unprecedented influx of unaccompanied children from Central America — mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — illegally cross into the U.S.
An estimated 52,193 unaccompanied children younger than 18 years old have been caught illegally crossing the Southwest U.S.-Mexico border since October, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
About 37,600 have crossed into the Rio Grande Valley alone, a 178 percent increase from the previous year.
Contributing: Tatiana Sanchez, Barrett Newkirk, Brett Kelman, Erica Felci and Reza Gostar of The Desert Sun