Demonstrators in Oracle plan to block immigrants' arrival

2014-07-14T22:00:00Z 2014-07-15T10:34:48Z Demonstrators in Oracle plan to block immigrants' arrivalBy Veronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The expected arrival of dozens of unaccompanied minors to a residential facility for troubled boys in Oracle this morning is to be met by protesters.

Demonstrators intend to form a human barrier blocking the road leading to Peppersauce Canyon where the Sycamore Canyon Academy is located to prevent buses carrying an estimated 40 to 60 children from reaching the facility.

“Sycamore Canyon Academy, at the urgent request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, will provide safe and temporary care to a small number of the unaccompanied youth from Central and South America,” Carl Shipman, program director for the facility, said in a news release.

The children will be housed there until they are processed and placed with a sponsor or sent to their home country, the release said.

Neither the U.S. Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Health and Human Services responded to requests for comment.

The protest, spearheaded by Oracle resident Robert Skiba, is expected to attract between 50 and 500 demonstrators, he said.

The group is expected to meet at 7 a.m. at the junction on Mount Lemmon Highway where the road splits to go toward San Manuel or Peppersauce.

Skiba’s objections to the placement of the children at the facility stem health and safety concerns and disappointment over the government’s handling of the situation.

“The government did this under the cover of darkness, in total secrecy, without letting us know about it,” he said.

A surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America being apprehended at the border has placed a burden on the system and a lack of shelters for the children has caused them to be held in facilities in Nogales, Arizona and Texas.

Skiba said he attended an event in Tucson last Thursday where Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu spoke about immigration. During the speech the sheriff looked directly at Skiba and told him about the arrival of the children in Oracle, he said.

“During the course of that discussion he said ‘you’re going to have 40 of these illegal people from Central America in your community very soon,’” Skiba said.

The following day Skiba said he saw a notice posted on the bulletin board of the local Post Office that said the children would be arriving on July 15. It was removed later that day, he said.

Skiba, who referred to himself as the “Paul Revere of the community,” and who has been a community activist for more than 50 years, said he began telling people about the issue and organized a demonstration vowing “to do what we have to do to make sure those buses don’t get through that area.”

In a news release sent Monday, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said it was notified by “whistle blowers” that DHS was planning to transfer a group of 40 to 60 minors to the Oracle facility.

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Babeu requested the names, ages, criminal histories, gang affiliations and any public health concerns of every person brought into the county.

“As the elected Sheriff of Pinal County it is my duty to ensure the safety and security of all of our residents,” Babeu wrote.

Skiba said the facility is near capacity and the arrival of the kids will strain services in the community.

“They have a capacity of about 40, they have 38 kids now,” he said. “To put more out there increases all sorts of problems like garbage, sewage disposal, emergency services.”

He also expressed concerned about their unknown health conditions saying that some of the kids could have leprosy or tuberculosis.

Sheriff’s deputies will be at today’s protest to “ensure the peace is maintained at these lawful assemblies,” Babeu said in a news release.

Similar protests were staged last week in Murrieta, California where anti-immigration demonstrators blocked busses carrying children and women from reaching a processing facility.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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