ORACLE, Ariz. (AP) — Protesters waved “Return to Sender” signs, shoved a group of mariachi musicians and waited for a bus of immigrant children that the local sheriff told them would arrive. At one point, they briefly halted a bus before realizing it was carrying children from a YMCA.
The bus of Central American children never arrived, ending a day of protest in a small Arizona town that drew more than 100 people on both sides of the immigration debate.
Sheriff Paul Babeu is credited with stirring up the anti-immigrant protesters via social media postings and a press release and by leaking information about the migrants’ arrival to a local activist. The Sycamore Canyon Academy acknowledged that it had an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services to take in a “small number” of immigrant children from Central America, but it did not specify how many and when they would arrive.
“All this was done in secrecy, and that’s where a lot of people are upset,” Babeu said Tuesday. “My concern (is) where’s the federal government? Why are they not here? Why did they not hold a town hall to answer some of these questions?”
He addressed both sides of the protesters, asking them to remain civil, abide by the law and keep the roads cleared. Immigrant rights activists questioned Babeu about agitating protesters when he should be bringing order as the county’s top lawman.
Babeu said he was simply informing the public and was at the site to make sure the protests on both sides were peaceful.
The protests came as the government released new numbers that show how many immigrant families and children have been pouring into the country in recent months. The Border Patrol says 55,420 family members have been caught at the border from October through the end of June, a nearly 500 percent increase from the same period in the previous year. The number includes adults apprehended with their young children, and most of them were caught in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In addition, the Border Patrol says 57,525 unaccompanied children have been apprehended through the end of June.
The dueling groups in Oracle had a combined 130 people at the peak of the protests, including about 80 rallying against the shipment of immigrants and 50 in favor. Pro-immigrant supporters held welcome signs with drawings of hearts.