Portage County, Ohio Tea Party president Tom Zawistowski anticipated a large turnout at a protest against illegal immigration on the west lawn of the Ohio Statehouse on Friday afternoon. But fewer than 20 turned out for the rally.
Similar coordinated protests were planned over the weekend in cities across the U.S. in response to a recent surge in illegal crossings at the Mexican border, including more than 57,000 children. The protesters in Columbus opposed President Obama's request for emergency spending to handle the surge in undocumented children as a humanitarian crisis.
"I came down mainly because of what's been happening the last three or four weeks," said Rod Clay of Westerville. "I've heard reports about thousands of illegal children crossing our border, and being housed in detention facilities. It's just wrong to house the children in these facilities and not simply send them back to their parents, wherever they came from.
"I also understand that these children are not being screened for health conditions," Clay said. "I think some of these children have significant health problems, some of them contagious. I understand that some of the border patrol have contracted some of these diseases."
"That's racism. That's xenophobia," interjected Rubén Castilla Herrera of the Ohio Interfaith Immigration Coalition. He challenged Clay's sources of information.
As Clay and Herrera engaged in a heated debate about immigration policy, a State Highway Patrol supervisor told the protesters, who had not secured a permit, to put their signs away or move the protest to the sidewalk outside the Statehouse grounds. The protesters removed their signs and remained on the Statehouse lawn.
"Whether they realize it or not, I think that they're protesting out of a deep-seated fear, even hate, of people who are different," Herrera said. "They're a small minority, but they have a big influence on people's opinions.
"It's the people who didn't come here, but believe this stuff, who really scare me," he said. "The message that people are putting out is based on misinformation, ignorance, and hate packaged in patriotic wrapping paper. These children are refugees. The U.S. has a long history of policies in Central America that have created this situation."