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Let the Little Children Come to Me

July 3, 2014

Murrieta, California, takes its name from two Basque sheep ranchers, the brothers Esequial and Juan Murrieta, who bought and worked 52,000 acres of meadow land in the late 1800s, roughly half-way between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Murrieta enjoyed a boomlet from 1882 to 1935, the lifetime of Murrieta’s passenger rail service, as tourists came to visit nearby hot springs. After rail service ended, Murrieta was a sleepy small town, housing just 2,200 residents as late as 1980. Then Interstate 15 was built right through Murrieta, and the population topped 100,000 by 2010.

Now a small city, Murrieta remains a conservative bastion, known for its anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim views. The population is 55 percent non-Hispanic white and 26 percent Hispanic, with significant African-American and Asian-American minorities. As close as it is to the Mexican border, and with California’s liberal policies on immigration, the non-Hispanic white population no doubt concerns itself about shrinking to minority status.

Murrieta is home to the Calvary Chapel Bible College, an unaccredited institution founded by the  late evangelical pastor Chuck Smith. Smith was one of those who attributed the 9/11 attacks to divine revenge for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Earlier, Smith had predicted that the world would end with the second coming of Christ, before the end of 1981. On the very last day of the year, New Year’s Eve 1981, Calvary Chapel held a service for the congregation to await the fulfillment of Smith’s prophecy. Of course, 1982 checked in right on schedule, but as it is ever with false prophets, Smith continued unhumbled for 30 more years.

The recent surge of unaccompanied children illegally crossing into the American southwest has been widely reported. Children caught illegally immigrating are treated differently than adults; deportation of unaccompanied children is too cruel even for American immigration policy.

But it is not too cruel for Murrieta, California. As facilities have filled, and conditions deteriorated, federal officials have begun flying and busing children to facilities elsewhere. Buses carrying 300 illegal immigrants to Murrieta were blocked Tuesday by a mob of white, flag-waving Murrietans, evidently with the full support of Murrieta’s elected leaders. In the showdown between the mob and the buses, the mob won, and the buses turned around and headed off to San Diego.

There were counter-protesters on hand, an ethnically mixed crowd preaching love and care for the children, contrasting starkly with the all-white anti-immigrant protesters, faces blazing with hate, waving the Red, White and Blue.

I obviously have no idea whether any of the protesters expected the second coming of Christ in 1981, or expect it still, but I do think many of them could pay more attention to the words of Christ his first time around.

It’s one thing for a country of immigrants to give hostile treatment to adults who come here looking for a better life. But people who want our government to stop children at our border and send them back into the desert have lost something important: they have lost empathy; they have lost compassion. Let the little children come to us.


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