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Babeu tip prompts some to plan blockade of Oracle migrant kids' shelter
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Babeu tip prompts some to plan blockade of Oracle migrant kids' shelter

  • Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones at a town hall last week, discussing Jones' plan for border security as part of her bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
    Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comPinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones at a town hall last week, discussing Jones' plan for border security as part of her bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
  • Undocumented children ride a bus entering the Nogales Border Patrol Station in early June.
    Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comUndocumented children ride a bus entering the Nogales Border Patrol Station in early June.

Some residents of Oracle are planning a Tuesday blockade of a new shelter for unaccompanied undocumented children, called after Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told organizers about the facility near the small town north of Tucson.

Speaking Monday night, Babeu raised questions about the children's possible affiliation with the notorious MS-13 gang, and the chance they might spread disease.

Read updates on Tuesday's demonstrations at Protests at Oracle migrant shelter: One to blockade, one welcoming kids

Echoing the protest that shut down the transfer of women and children to a shelter in Murrieta, Calif., last week, some area residents are planning a protest on Mt. Lemmon Road, four miles east of Oracle, starting at 7 a.m.

A counter-protest, organized to send a message of support for the migrant children, will meet at Oracle's post office starting at 6:30 a.m.

Ron Thompson, a three-year resident of Oracle, is organizing the protest against the shelter, along with Robert Skiba.

"I'd like to protect America, but I realize that's a big chore, so I just want to protect our community," said Thompson, who is calling for the protest because he believes that the unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America are carrying diseases he fears will create a pandemic.

On Friday, the Pima County Health Department released a report stating that migrant kids and families were not a public health threat. Yet, Thompson remains unconvinced.

"The federal government is not doing its job and it makes me sick that this is something we're going to have to suffer through," he said. 

Skiba, a 56-year resident of Oracle, was told about the facility by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu on Thursday, during a campaign event for Christine Jones, a Republican candidate for governor.

Babeu was "giving a speech on immigration and he turned to me and said Bob, they're coming to you," Skiba said.

Skiba calls himself a community activist and that's why Babeu made sure to focus on him during the luncheon, Skiba said. The two met in 2008 when Skiba helped Babeu become sheriff, he said.

Once he knew about the facility's new contract with the federal government, Skiba presented the information to a political group in the area on Saturday and started planning a response.

Skiba told Breitbart News that he hoped to turn the children away.

"We're going to mobilize and we're going to do the best we can to stop this from happening," Robert Skiba told the website. "We're prepared for whatever happens. If they want to send in the SWAT team, armored cars, helicopters, let them do it. We'll have the media out there."

The Sycamore Canyon Academy is the proposed site for 40-60 migrant children, according to a news release from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

In the release, Babeu criticized the federal government's handling of this summer's influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America.

"We already have our hands full fighting the drug cartels and human smugglers. We don't need unaccompanied juveniles from Central America being flown into Arizona compliments of President Obama," Babeu said.

Illegal immigration is already big business in Pinal County.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has five permanent facilities in Pinal County in which suspected illegal immigrants are detained:

  • Central Arizona Correctional Center
  • Eloy Detention Center
  • Florence Correctional Center
  • Florence SPC
  • Pinal County Adult Detention Center

Two immigration courts also operate in Babeu's county, in Eloy and Florence.

The sheriff, whose hard-line border stance was the center of a 2012 congressional run abandoned when his personal life became an issue with right-wing backers and his campaign was investigated for violations of the Hatch Act, acknowledged the protests and said his officers would be there to "ensure the peace in these lawful assemblies."

"Local residents have every right to be upset and to protest. Our federal government has failed to enforce any immigration laws," Babeu said in the release.

During a Jones campaign event focused on border issues in Saddlebrooke on Monday night, Babeu said he need to be "fair and neutral" as a law enforcement officer, but he also argued that the juveniles coming through Oracle could be affiliated with the notorious El Salvadoran street-gang MS-13, and may carry serious diseases.

"My concern as a sheriff is to protect the 5,000 people" in Oracle, Babeu said. "I don't know who these people are."

Babeu said he had written letters and called federal officials at Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Health and Human Services.

"Guess what I heard back. Nothing," he said.

"I'm highly insulted as a sheriff, that the federal government has been completely silent and done this in secret." said Babeu, "All this information was reported by whistle-blowers and what's disconcerting for me and for the public is that no information is being shared."

"I have legitimate law enforcement concerns, I want to know who these people are, what their affiliations are and their criminal activity in their countries of origin," he said.

On the possibilities of disease, he left it as an open question. "I don't know the issues of public health," he said. "I don't know, but I have a concern." 

Babeu reminded the crowd that they had a legal right to protest, but said his deputies would arrest people if they blocked the road or otherwise failed to follow a legal order. 

A second protest is planned for Saturday in front of a planned shelter at the Peppersauce Campground starting at 8 a.m.

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