Amy Sutton, Melinda Oporto
A shelter for legal immigrants in the South San Diego is gaining attention from anti-immigrant activists and local residents who have started a campaign of filming in front of the shelter and confronting the workers there, resulting in a police response on at least one occasion.
In the past week or so, several videos have been posted on social media and Youtube of the shelter located on 18th Street, just outside Imperial Beach in an auditorium used by the San Diego Catholic Church Diocese.
The shelter is run by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, an organization that provides temporary refuge to the legal migrants after they have been processed, vetted for security risks, and fitted with GPS-monitoring ankle bracelets by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The shelter is called a "secret shelter" by the activists. One said the shelter is as part of a conspiracy by Sen. Bernie Sanders. “All these people are connected to Bernie Sanders,” says Amy Sutton in one of the videos she filmed from in front of the shelter. “Bernie is in the background. We have the proof."
In one video posted February 19, Melinda Oporto momentarily blocks the front gate of the shelter and prevents a security guard from closing it. Workers at the shelter then call the police, prompting Oporto to start screaming at the workers. "I can scream all I want! It's not illegal to scream!" She then starts chanting “traitors, traitors.”
When the police arrive, Oporto tells them she was "just talking" to the workers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the U.S., identifies Oporto as a far-right activist.
Oporto asks one of the workers, "Are you here legally, or did you jump the border like they all did?" She asks another worker whether she is Native American and tells her: "We didn't take nothing away from you, we conquered it."
The South Bay shelter has been open since November and will continue to be used by the network until they move into the new temporary migrant shelter in downtown San Diego. The network's Ashley Weaver said the South Bay shelter will remain until renovations are finished in the downtown shelter “in a few weeks.”
The network said in a message to the media that "families housed at the shelter include an average of one to two young children, with average stays of 12 to 48 hours."
Activist Amy Sutton, who often films alongside Oporto, has posted several videos from in front of the shelter recently. Sutton has appeared in the media as a representative of San Diegans for Secure Borders, identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In one video, Sutton says "It looks like Mexico back there... This is a crime right here, harboring illegals." Oporto says of the immigrants, "There were hundreds of people like a herd.”
The activists can be heard refusing to accept that ICE has processed and released the migrants as legal asylum-seekers. "Just because they have a paper doesn't mean that they're legal," Sutton says in one video.
Oporto says to the shelter workers, "How does it feel to be a human trafficker? How does it feel to be an American traitor?" When she spots a California Highway Patrol badge on a car entering the shelter, Oporto says "Why do they have undercover highway patrol assisting these traffickers?"
Local resident Melissa Espinoza filmed through her bathroom window and posted the video on February 24th showing the back grounds of the area with some of the shelter’s temporary facilities.
"This here, so disgusting, is the toilet and shower," Espinoza says in reference to a large portable unit on the grounds. Espinoza declined to be interviewed.
Espinoza commented on social media that "they have put us in danger...I honestly feel like a prisoner in my own home as I don’t open the back windows or shutters because I feel scared. Truly scared what would happen to me if I expose what’s happening behind all our backs."
However, according to a message which Espinoza posted online from William Nolan of the Diocese of San Diego, the nature of the shelter is not so secret.
Nolan tells Espinoza in the message that the network received permission from the City of San Diego to operate the temporary shelter for migrant families, mostly women and children, that have been lawfully admitted to the country by border authorities.
The network is a coalition that includes Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, San Diego Organizing Project, the Red Cross and the ACLU.
Ricky Taylor posted a video in mid-January of women and children exiting a Department of Health Services bus in front of the shelter. Taylor labeled them illegal immigrants and included the hashtag #buildthewall. Anti-immigrant and anti-Chicano Park activist Roger Ogden posted a video of the shelter on February 24.