Oracle protest makes national news, protest remains peaceful

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Law enforcement made their presence known at the gates of Sycamore Canyon Academy in Peppersauce Canyon. Protesters took up positions in Oracle near the intersection of American Ave. and Mt. Lemmon Rd. and at the intersection of Webb Rd. and Mt. Lemmon Rd. John Hernandez | Miner

San Manuel Miner

The small town of Oracle, Ariz. became known nationwide last week as it became a focal point of the immigration debate. A protest of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children being housed at the Sycamore Canyon Academy was organized by Oracle resident Robert Skiba after he was told by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu that they would be housed there and that a bus with 40 or more children would be arriving on Tuesday, July 15. Babeu said he was told by two friends of this that worked for ICE about the plan to house the children at the Sycamore Canyon Academy in Peppersauce Canyon a popular picnic and camping area on weekends in the Catalina Mountains above Oracle.

A group of 80 or more gathered at a junction on the road that leads to Peppersauce Canyon. The other road leads to the small former mining town of San Manuel. It has frequent traffic. The protesters were slowing down the traffic on both roads. On the road to the Sycamore Canyon Academy, traffic was slowed to a halt. Two school buses loaded with kids on their way to a nearby YMCA camp were halted and then allowed to pass. I wonder what the kids were thinking after being greeted in Oracle by a group supporting the children waived to them and held up signs saying welcome in Spanish and English. Everyone laughing after they realized it was a group of children headed to the YMCA camp in Marana School District buses. The bus that Sheriff Babeu said was coming never arrived.

The gathering at the junction included most of the TV news stations from Tucson and Phoenix. They were interviewing Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Robert Skiba and people who were there, most of them from out of town. There was a heavy police presence in the area. The evening before Sheriff Babeu was telling people at a political rally in SaddleBrooke that there could be between 500 to 700 people at the protest.

Border hawk and author of controversial Senate Bill 1070 (the show me your papers bill) Russell Pearce was there including other politicians among them gubernatorial candidate Frank Riggs and congressional candidate Adam Kwasman. Pearce and Riggs were escorted by members of the Arizona State Militia out of Tucson (not affiliated with the Arizona government). Some of them were armed.

A few individuals were interviewed and asked why they were at the protest. Colonel Kratos of the Arizona State Militia said, “We are here for security and nothing else.” I asked him who the militia was providing security for and he answered, “At the request of the individuals I cannot tell you.”

Andi from Florence who was with the protesters said, “I feel like the kids are caught in the crossfire. The president is not doing anything about it. The kids are being used as pawns. I think it is sad. I don’t like the ugliness directed at the kids but at the same time, it sends a message.”

James Montano from Oracle said, “My grandmother was born in Guaymas, Mexico. We all came in legally. If they had asked us it might have turned out differently. We don’t like it being forced on us by the Federal government. We don’t take this lightly. No one here is trying to be a negative activist but enough is enough.”

Teresa from Goodyear said she came because she wanted to, “see our border secured and our government work on immigration reform.”

William from Oracle who was protesting the arrival of the kids set up at the counter protest area carrying a sign that said “deport now”. He said, “I don’t want them here. They don’t need to come here. They need to do it the right way.”

At the counter protest area at the entrance to Mt. Lemmon Road off American Ave. a group of people waiving welcome signs in Spanish and English lined the road. Although their numbers may not have been as large as the protesters they seemed to have more Oracle residents at the scene than the protest group. Most of the people showing support also came from out of town. The Angel Project out of Tucson was one of the groups that showed up. They attend events aimed at dealing with hate groups. Some of the interviews included Chris with the Somos America group out of Phoenix. He said, “We heard about the sheriff tipping off people about the protest. I didn’t want to see the same thing that happened in Murrieta, Cali. happen here.”

Holly from Marana said, “They are children, children on a bus. People are ugly about it and I don’t understand it. All they want is a chance.”

Joel Smith with Humane Borders said, “I came to show my support for the children. I want to stand up against racism and xenophobia. This is America!”

Gabriel, a kid from Oracle, was with his grandmother. He said he was glad he came. While holding a poster with a heart drawn on it he said he would welcome these kids and talk to them and play with them if they came to his school.

Overall the protest was peaceful. There was one incident where a group of mariachis and some supporters walked up the public road playing music. The group Mariachi Luz de Luna walked down the middle of the road toward the protesters. People walking with them held up a sign with the words that are on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/the wretched refuse of your teeming shore/send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The protesters then began blocking the mariachis from advancing. The mariachi group tried to walk around the people blocking them. They were soon surrounded. Expletives were directed at them and a few people shouting, “Go back to Mexico”, even though the members of the group were Americans. The protesters began jostling the band members and their friends. The music stopped. Protesters were shouting and there was some pushing when the trumpet player from the band began playing the Star Spangled Banner and band members began singing. Most of the protesters then stood at attention and some of them started singing along with the mariachis. When the music stopped the protesters again started shouting and there were confrontations among individuals. There was some pushing and shoving and people being held back. The Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies then stepped in and got everything under control.

The name of the trumpet player was Ruben Moreno. He even played the Marine Hymn when a protester confronted him and identified himself as a Marine. Moreno is also a Marine. The two Marines exchanged their views on the immigration issue and parted ways. The big protest that Sheriff Paul Babeu said was going to happen never materialized. He got his television cameras like he wanted but not the publicity he thought he would. Another protest was attempted on Saturday with even fewer people showing up. The counter protesters did not bother organizing as they knew there would be no bus. They instead started a “Have a Heart” campaign and will be organizing to gather supplies to help the refugees that are probably in Sycamore Canyon as we speak.

Now the public should seek answers on how and why this publicity stunt was organized and how much did it cost the tax payers.

John Hernandez (381 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.

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