Hundreds of people turned out for Thursday's anti-immigrant demonstration at the safe house, the former Homewood Suites hotel at 9880 North Scottsdale Road. Judging just by the number of people honking as they drove by, the protesters have a lot of support in the Republican-majority community next door to the wealthy town of Paradise Valley.
The protest included numerous Trump supporters who were concerned not only about the influx of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, but the ongoing "ballot audit" still being conducted under secrecy by leaders of the Arizona State Senate and the company they hired, Cyber Ninjas.
Some of the protesters expressed concern about who the government is holding at the former hotel, which had its entrances blocked off and police and security officers making sure no one came on the property. Phoenix New Times saw no sign of migrants at the hotel on Thursday. But anyone looking out one of the hotel windows would have seen — and heard — the flag-waving crowd with anti-immigrant signs.
Some of the protesters said they were concerned that criminals could be held at the hotel, while others said they were worried the migrants were getting better treatment than some U.S. veterans.
"If they're not from this country, why aren't they on an airplane or a shipping container or in a van on the way back to where they came from?" said one protester who declined to give her name.
Kelly Johnson of southern California, who described himself as a retired police officer and attorney, carried Gadsden and Trump flags and had a .357-magnum strapped to his thigh. He's been in Arizona off and on over the last several weeks to support the ballot audit in Maricopa County, he said, and he believes it could lead to Trump returning to the White House.
"It's the most important thing going on in the world right now," Johnson said. Asked if the appearance of incompetence by Cyber Ninjas and the state senate would make any findings suspect, Johnson disagreed. "I think they know what they're doing, and the media is trying to question what's going on... We eagerly await the results, and we're going to trust the results."
While some motorists passing the demonstration just honked, others slowed down or stopped to chat with and praise the protesters. One man in a pickup pulled up and handed a protester a stack of papers, saying he wanted help handing them out. The single-sheet flyer said, among other things, that "Mexico and Joe Biden Administration shall be brought on crimes for both-murder of the Mexican and A merican [sic] people... Those charged shall serve life in prison."
Not all who drove by were in support of the protesters: A woman in a blue Maserati slowed down and smirked as she flipped off a group of demonstrators, then tore off.
Another protest is reportedly planned for Friday, June 4.
Right-wing furor over the Scottsdale hotel-turned-ICE-facility follows weeks of similar, though smaller, protests at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Ahwatukee, which is also housing migrants as part of an $87 million contract announced in March between the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau and Endeavors, a Christian community services organization based in San Antonio, Texas.
writing a letter (see below) to the lawyers representing the former hotel's lender and borrower to "urge [them] not to go forward with converting the Hotel Property into a 1,200-person detention facility."
For Brnovich, the letter fits a pattern of going heavy on the issue of immigration enforcement before a potential run for office. The Washington Examiner, which broke the story of ICE using the Arizona hotels for migrants on April 7, also reported in April that Brnovich is likely to run against Democrat Mark Kelly for the U.S. Senate.
Brnovich is currently suing the Biden Administration with Montana over its allegedly "dangerous" immigration policies.
In the June 2 letter, Brnovich said he was concerned about the legality and public safety of the facility. He specifically cited the possibility that some of the migrant families would be turned loose into the local community; the alleged potential for negative environmental effects; and the likelihood that converting the hotel into a "detention facility" would violate Scottsdale zoning ordinances.
"This is about the rule of law," Ryan Anderson, a spokesperson for the AG's office said on Thursday. "These issues are moving beyond the borders and into these detention facilities."
The city of Scottsdale meanwhile has been besieged by hundreds of phone calls by citizens asking, or wanting to complain about, the facility. A recording for people who call Mayor David Ortega's office says the city takes no responsibility for the facility and concerned residents should call their federal elected officials. City officials didn't respond to a question about zoning status from the Arizona Republic last week; on Thursday, city spokesperson Kelly Corsette told Phoenix New Times the city still has no response to the question.
Endeavors, also known as Family Endeavors, didn't return a message. ICE released a statement to New Times, but it was the same statement it released to the media on April 9, stating that it will "provide emergency temporary shelter and process families placed in its custody through a short-term contract with Endeavors."
According to ICE, "custody is intended to be short term, generally less than 72 hours, to allow for immigration enforcement processing and establishing appropriate terms and conditions of release while their immigration proceedings continue. All families will be tested for COVID-19 and receive a health assessment at these Emergency Family Staging Centers."
The contract runs through September 30 and provides 1,239 beds for families seeking asylum at a cost of $352.64 per bed, per day, for 199 days, totaling about $87 million. The beds will apparently be distributed across several hotels in Texas and Arizona, contradicting reports that the Scottsdale hotel will be a "1,200-person detention facility."
The contract says the former hotel is needed because of the "emergency situation on the southwest border" that has resulted in an influx of more families and unaccompanied minors than have been seen in 20 years. Without the help of Endeavors, the government would be "forced to house these people in unsuitable and unsafe living conditions, which is not an option" because of the clear legal liability, it states.
A migrant child looking out a hotel window might have also seen counter-protesters on the east side of Scottsdale Road, opposite the larger crowd of conservatives. As the Ahwatukee Foothills noted in an article last month, groups including the 100 Angels Foundation counter-protested at the Holiday Inn in Ahwatukee for several weeks, and the same pattern of protest and counter-protest may yet be seen in Scottsdale as ICE activities continue through September.
On Thursday after sunset, a man in shorts walked up to some of the remaining protesters and told them they were there "because they don't like black and brown people." The protesters all but ignored him. The man told New Times he walked over from his $2 million house a couple of blocks over to "give people grief."
"These people are human beings," he said of the migrants, declining to give his name. "I'm not a crusader, but I think one has to have some compassion."
Below, the letter by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on former hotel being used as ICE facility: