The influx of thousands of Central Americans into the U.S. has energized anti-illegal immigration activists who organized rallies across the country in recent days.
"How can we afford to take care of other countries' poor? Americans are going hungry without jobs and no one is attending to them," said Herbert Baker, a chiropractor standing atop a highway overpass in Los Angeles hoisting an American flag and a sign that read "Stop Illegal Immigration."
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The Los Angeles protest was among 40 in southern California and hundreds held in the U.S., part of a national call for a crackdown on illegal immigration coordinated by a coalition of anti-illegal immigrant groups. Some rallies, including those in Little Rock, Ark., Dallas and Philadelphia, drew counter protesters.
 
Since October, about 57,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the country illegally, many fleeing poverty and violence or hoping to reunite with family in the U.S. The flow slowed this week, but reports of migrants swarming the border and being transported to towns in the country's interior have attracted new supporters of grass-roots organizations that fight illegal immigration.
 
"This is reaction to a border that seems out of control, of people showing up uninvited and of federal officials scrambling to respond, " said Roberto Suro, director of the University of Southern California's Tom├ís Rivera Policy Institute. 
 
"What remains to be seen is whether the [Obama] administration can get a handle on it before the negative reactions escalate," Mr. Suro said.
 
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to respond to the crisis and lawmakers are weighing whether to amend a 2008 law to expedite deportations. The House and Senate are moving forward on separate bills with no clear deal in sight. On Friday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet at the White House with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss ways to stanch the flow.
In Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the main entry point, federal officials and aid workers have reported that fewer than 100 minors a day were apprehended by border agents last week, compared with as many as 300 a day recently.
 
Most children willingly turn themselves in.
 
Experts predict that the number of illegal entries this year will be small compared with levels reached during the heyday of illegal immigration more than a decade ago, when about 900,000 people were caught trying to sneak in. "Fifty thousand is a lot of people, especially unaccompanied kids, but the numbers a decade ago were much bigger in terms of total number of people coming," said Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center.
 
That doesn't ease the concerns of people like Tressy Capps of Fontana, Calif., who recently raised her voice. "These people are being dumped in our communities. They might have diseases, be criminals; it's all very shady," said Ms. Capps, a 49-year-old mother of three, who joined an anti-illegal immigration organization called We the People Rising.
 
The southern California group reports a surge in interest since the border crisis erupted.
Some communities have passed resolutions or written letters to officials in an effort to stop migrants from being temporarily housed in their jurisdiction while awaiting deportation or asylum proceedings.
 
Arzella Melnyk, coordinator of a group called Ohio Grassroots Rally Team, wrote to Gov. John Kasich saying, "Ohio should not be allowed to be used as a dumping ground, nor should the residents of Ohio be forced to bear any part of the burden of the ongoing border crisis."
 
Public support for offering undocumented immigrants who have been living in the U.S. a path to legal status slipped to 68% in July from 73% in February, according to a Pew survey released last week.
 
"People have just had it," said Jo Wideman, executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization that calls for tougher immigration policies.
 
Ms. Wideman, of Santa Barbara, Calif., said that traffic on her organization's Facebook page has soared and that its donor base has jumped 88% since early June. "People who normally would have strong opinions but didn't participate are coming forward."
Reminiscent of a decade ago, self-styled militiamen are preparing to position themselves along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat the "invasion," said Barbie Rogers, who runs the Patriots Information Hotline, which helps those interested in volunteering. She said most participants were licensed gun owners. "Our goal is to get enough guys down there to get the border closed permanently," she added. "It doesn't matter if it takes days, weeks or years."