IDAHO FALLS — An avalanche of immigrant children from Central America is a divisive issue, but people actually shook hands as members of the Idaho Falls Tea Party met a counter-protest group from Idaho Falls and Pocatello Saturday at the Sunnyside Exit of Interstate 15.
The Tea Party was holding a “rally against illegal immigration forced by the federal government” protest on the overpass south of Idaho Falls and progressives and Democrats from the area decided to express an alternative view.
Second Congressional District Democratic candidate Richard Stallings was there and engaged some of the Tea Party protesters, although the exchanges weren’t always warm.
As Stallings shook hands with Tea Party member Jim Rath of Ammon, Stallings introduced himself as a candidate.
“Are you a liberal fascist?” Rath asked Stallings.
“There’s no such thing,” Stallings shot back. The former Ricks College history professor and four-term U.S. Congressman from Idaho just smiled and greeted other protestors as he made his way to the side of the off-ramp where the counter-protestors gathered.
Nine Tea Party protestors held signs with slogans like: “No Amnesty, No Citizenship” and “Save Our Country, Close Our Borders.”
Rath held a sign that read: “Dial 1 for English and Dial 2 for Deportation.”
Rath accused the Obama Administration of orchestrating the influx of more than 50,000 minors from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala at the Mexican border.
“It’s a well-organized move by the administration,” Rath said. “They’re using children just like Hamas or Al-Qaeda.”
Rath said the U.S. should simply feed the children from Central America and send them back home on a bus. He also said President Obama should be prosecuted for breaking the law.
“We’re talking about the Constitution of the United States,” Rath said. “We’re a Republic and we work by rules and standards.”
Across the I-15 off-ramp, 21 counter-protesters had a different message for passing motorists.
Signs included the messages: “Refugee Children Flee Violence” and “This American Supports Refugee Children.”
“It’s a refugee program and America should respond with compassion and help,” said an Idaho Falls member of the America Civil Liberties Union, Dan Henry. “We need to do it thoughtfully.”
Henry said he welcomed the support from people from Pocatello including Stallings at the counter-protest.
“The fear-mongering on the right is what we’re opposed to,” Henry said.
Stallings said the notion that the Obama White House purposely created the large influx of Central American children is ridiculous. He pointed out that the federal law that requires hearings to determine refugee status for children who flee countries in Central America was championed by the George W. Bush administration.
“I think you have a bunch of kids who are fleeing for their lives,” Stallings said. “If we simply send them back, for many it’s a death sentence and that’s not American.”
Stallings added he wasn’t surprised that the Tea Party is touting that the crisis with children from Central America was deliberately created by Obama.
“If we had a small pox outbreak, they’d blame it on Obama,” Stallings said.
Barb Dahl of Idaho Falls said simply sending all the children back without determining their reasons for leaving their home countries isn’t fair.
“We have law in place to protect refugees and we have to give these children due process,” Dahl said.
But the Tea Party group at the protest remain convinced the issue at the U.S. southern border was the result of deliberate actions by the current administration.
Andi Elliott of the Idaho Falls Tea Party said the protest was to show support for the states where the “illegal kids have been dumped on them.”
“Obama expected this to happen,” Elliott said about the crisis at the border. “This didn’t just happen by accident.”
Passing motorists honked their horns in support of both groups.