Update 5:13 p.m.: Director of Sycamore Canyon Academy tells me that he has "no date and time" associated with arrival of children. Says he is not aware of children coming on Tuesday. See full update below.
A longtime supporter of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says the sheriff tipped him off that 40 to 50 migrant kids would soon be placed in his community.
Oracle resident Robert Skiba believes that the minors will be bused by federal authorities to the Sycamore Canyon Academy on Tuesday.
He told me in an interview this morning that he first heard of the transfer from Babeu at an NRA women's leadership forum held in Tucson, where Babeu was the featured speaker.
"I was at a luncheon in Tucson last Thursday," Skiba explained. "And Sheriff Paul Babeu gave a beautiful speech on immigration.
"At the end of the speech, he looked at me and he said, 'Mr. Skiba, the government's going to put 40 Central American kids in your community in the very, very near future.'
"I extemporaneously popped off, I said, `And we'll take care of them.' It made people chuckle because it had a double meaning."
Skiba began making calls as soon as he got home, calling elected officials, letting others know, and snooping out more details of the transfer, he claims.
He says he and about 50 to 200 other protesters will be "on the Mount Lemon Road where it turns off to Peppersauce Canyon" beginning Tuesday morning at 7 a.m.
"We're going to engage in peaceful assembly," Skiba told me. "And if these buses with these people from Central America come in, we're going to stop it. we're going to turn them around and send them back, just like they did in Murrieta, California."
This, of course, is a reference to protests outside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in that southern California town, where an angry mob of anti-immigration demonstrators forced federal buses filled with immigrant children and mothers to turn around.
No arrests were made that day, though arrests were made on July 4, during a subsequent and much larger demonstration there from both pro and anti-immigration groups.
I asked Skiba if he was willing to block buses if it meant getting arrested.
"Whatever it takes," he stated.
However, it's not clear that there will be any buses.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which handles the placement of unaccompanied immigrant children as their immigration cases go through the courts, said he could not comment on any pending demonstrations.
Nor would he confirm if children are to be placed at the facility just outside Oracle where the protest is to take place.
"We have 100 regular/permanent Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters (which we do not identify for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities)," Wolfe explained via e-mail, "and three temporary Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters (at the Lackland, Ventura and Fort Sill military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma)."
Spokespersons for CPB and for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined any comment.
According to a 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush, unaccompanied minors must be turned over to HHS 72 hours after being taken into custody by the Border Patrol.
My attempts to reach someone at Sycamore Canyon Academy so far have been unsuccessful. A message left at its parent organization Rite of Passage have not been returned as of yet.
Though the Pinal County Sheriff's Office did not respond to my call for comment, it recently posted the following statement to its Facebook page:
Unaccompanied Illegal Minors Being Transferred to Boys Ranch in Oracle
During the past few days, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office has been informed by "whistle blowers" within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security they plan to transfer between 40 and 60 unaccompanied illegal minors to the "Sycamore Canyon Boys Ranch" in Oracle.
Our office has communicated with Homeland Security to express our public safety and public health concerns. We have already reached out to the director of the Sycamore Canyon Boys Ranch who has confirmed Homeland Security has been in negotiations with the facility to temporarily house the minors. The facility has increased their staff by approximately 30 employees in preparation for their anticipated arrival sometime tomorrow.
Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, "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. Local residents have every right to be upset and to protest. Our federal government has failed to enforce any immigration laws. These children should be returned to their home country - not to Oracle, Arizona paid for by American taxpayers."
Sheriff Babeu continued "We understand there will be protesters who support and oppose ICE bringing the foreign juveniles to Oracle. The Sheriff's Office will work to ensure the peace is maintained at these lawful assemblies."
Naturally, this all smells as if Babeu, a publicity addict well-known for exploiting the immigration issue for his own ends, is trying to stir up a Murrietta in his own backyard.
Even if no buses show, Babeu's guaranteed press coverage, and Skiba and his associates can claim victory.
The situation is highly ironic, given Babeu's own shenanigans of a couple of years ago with a Mexican boyfriend who apparently had overstayed his visa, a status Babeu and his supporters would regard as "illegal." Babeu allegedly threatened to have his ex-lover deported.
Perhaps Babeu would like to counsel the fresh arrivals from Central America himself?
In any case, not long after hearing Babeu talk about the 40 or 50 kids coming to his area, Skiba was on Tucson's Channel 4, speaking as the point man for those opposing any transfer of migrants to the facility.
The segment dated July 11 by reporter Lauren Reimer features Skiba wearing a "Don't Tread on Me" baseball cap, worrying about whether the area can handle 40 to 50 more individuals.
Reimer states that, "The Pinal County Sheriff's Department recently got word 40 to 50 migrant children could soon be staying here."
A clip of Babeu is shown at an event, saying that, "There are major concerns from a public safety perspective about that."
Skiba's call to action has been echoed online by such local nativist groups as Remember 1986, among others. It comes the same week that the North Carolina-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is organizing protests at state capitols nationwide on July 18 and 19.
A counter protest to show support for the minors is also in the works.
Regarding Babeu's statement about "public safety," it looks like he is the one imperiling it, and perhaps the lives of minors, with his irresponsible comments.
Skiba told me he's long been a fan and supporter of Babeu. He's contributed money to his campaigns, and worked to get him elected.
Will he and the other protesters be armed? Skiba says his group will not be.
"No, sir," he emphasized. "If anyone's carrying a weapon, [they will be asked to] put it in their car We don't want any weapons out there of any kind."
But he was aware that counter-demonstrators would be there as well, and acknowledged that the situation could turn testy.
"This is going to be a circus out there tomorrow," he said. "There's no two ways about it."
A circus, the kind Babeu likes.
Update 5:13 p.m.: Carl "Ike" Shipman, the program director of the Sycamore Canyon Academy, got back to me via phone, and e-mailed the statement below, which speaks for itself.
Asked if there would be buses delivering children to his facility on Tuesday, he said, "Not that I've been made aware of."
He also said he had "no date and time" for the arrival of these kids.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Carl Shipman, Program Director
ORACLE, AZ - (July 14, 2014) Sycamore Canyon Academy, at the urgent request of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), will provide safe and temporary care to a small number of the unaccompanied youth from Central and South America. These children will be temporarily placed at the campus by the ORR until they can be properly processed and placed with an appropriate sponsor or repatriated to their home country. Sycamore Canyon Academy is working closely with the federal refugee program and appreciates the support we have received for this humanitarian effort.
Sycamore Canyon Academy is not taking a position on the immigration debate in any way. We believe it is for others to decide. Our mission is to improve the lives of youth, and we will continue to fulfill our mission by focusing on our work with children.
Individuals who wish to contribute to this effort can contact the State Department Refugee Processing Center website at www.wrapsnet.org or the HSS Office of Refugee Resettlement website at www.acf.hhs.gov.
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