Mark Lane felt angry when his young son asked, “Why are those people so mad at the buses?” They had been watching the television when they saw anti-immigrant protesters preventing three buses carrying immigrants, including many children from entering a detention center in Murrieta, California last month. He wasn’t angry at his son. He was “pissed off” that he would have to explain to his son that “the people weren’t mad at the buses, but the people inside those buses” — the people being about 140 undocumented immigrant detainees who were en route to a processing facility for supervised release.
Lane said that he had to explain what hate meant, what being brown meant. Lane decided soon after the conversation that he would illustrate what compassion meant by sheltering a family fleeing violence in Guatemala. But the decision to take in the family has also made him the target of threatening emails, falsified Yelp reviews, phone calls, and death threats by anti-immigrant activists.
“I needed to show my three boys that we don’t use hate,” Lane recently told ThinkProgress. “That’s why I started the ‘Boycott Murrieta’ Facebook page. We were advocating for the children.”
Through the immigration advocacy group Border Angels, Mark Lane — a fishmonger by trade — and his family took in a Guatemalan family of four, who had recently fled violence. After the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency processed and released the Guatemalan family with notice to appear (NTA) slips, Border Angels founder Enrique Morones placed a call out to the organization’s advocates to find hosts for the family until they could make their way to a relative on the East Coast to await their immigration court hearing. “This is a matter of people taking in families and refugees,” Morones said, recalling to ThinkProgress that Lane was one of 20 eager volunteers. One Guatemalan family member reportedly stayed at a 24-hour money order business for nine days before Border Angels found out about her story and took her in. She was also allegedly raped several times during their journey to the United States and again at a shelter. The mom and three children (one daughter and two sons) are currently occupying one of two spare rooms in the Lane family home. “This family suffered trauma,” Lane explained. “They were so scared they piled into the same room. I let them bond with my wife in the first few days.”
But when word spread that Lane was hosting the family, people viciously attacked him online with a Facebook page calling for a boycott of his business, Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company. One commentator on the now-defunct Facebook page recommended that he “needs a serious beating in front of his customers. But then he serves crap food. His establishment is rat infested and smells like raw sewage.” Lane said that he and his family have been also receiving death threats, which he said he has now reported to the local police department’s hate crime division and even the Department of Justice.
Since the Guatemalan family came to stay with the Lanes four weeks ago, they went from being “hollow-eyed and watching me” to becoming “more animated, more relaxed. They’re in a safe environment and it kind of feels like bringing home a baby from the hospital.” He recalled that the mother was anguished when he used Google Earth to pull up an image of the Guatemalan city they had fled from. She told him, “That’s where I should die a normal death, but we can never go back there. If we go back, we will get killed.” He said that the family would likely stay with him for another month before they find relatives to wait out their immigration court hearings.
Lane said that despite the online threats, the experience has been worth it to show his children compassion. What’s more, “the support has been overwhelming… my business has tripled.” Not only that, Lane said that the death threats from an alleged Neo-Nazi has actually made him want to get more involved with helping fund American families that help with the refugee effort. “This guy has pissed me off so much that it’s strengthened my resolve to support these refugee families. For whatever reason, people think it’s bad to be compassionate, but I don’t feel that way,” he said.