California town feels misjudged after immigration protests

MURRIETA, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Outside the small white home that is now a business, the sign reads simply "peanut brittle."

Betty Darby works away inside of her hot kitchen, baking some of the town's favorite treats.

"It's a wonderful place to live," Darby said about Murrieta, where she has called home for 25 years. "All the people of the city, good people."

But, just one mile or so from her quiet old-town establishment, a group of Murrietans and supporters are making a lot of noise in this small Southern California town.

"It's a shock. Some people just need to have a place to be," Darby said.

Earlier this month, protestors had successfully stopped buses carrying hundreds of undocumented immigrants from entering their local federal border control facility, pushing this town of 100,000 people to the center of the immigration reform debate.

"We didn't ask for this. We definitely did not ask for this," said Cindy Lemos, a protestor who said she stood in front of the buses.

Another protestor just wanted answers.

"The process in which our federal government is thrusting these people over here, without any plan, without any coordination, is very frustrating," said Brad Heimbuck. "I think we have a right to be upset about how it was processed."

But, as the debate escalated nearby, locals say the nation got the wrong impression of Murrieta.

"We're very compassionate," Heimbuck said. "The churches here, around here, are very compassionate. People here really try to look out for one another have each other's backs."

Torrie Kunkle, a hairdresser in Murrieta, said it's a "bigger problem" prompting the protests.

"I don't think anybody in Murrieta really feels that we don't want to help people and that maybe we wouldn't do the same thing in the same situation," Kunkle said. "I don't think that we are not humane. I think we're just looking at it as a bigger problem."

Ismael Bugarin immigrated to Murrieta from Mexico 20 years ago and has lived in town ever since.

"You always look for a better place, especially when you're hungry, and I bet you those kids are hungry," Bugarin said. "I'm not afraid as a resident, but I worry. I'm not worried about the kids coming in the streets and being criminals, but what's going to happen? What are they going to do with the kids?"

Back up the street, Darby just wants all the fuss to die down.

"It is weird. I have a lot of my friends from out of town. Relatives out of state saying, 'What's going on? Are you near there? Are you gonna get hurt?' I says, 'No. I'm not gonna get hurt,'" Darby said. "It's a wonderful place to live, and I think a few have cast a different picture."