Waving yellow Gadsden flags and looking like refugees from Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch, dozens of immigration opponents have amassed on a local road in Oracle, Arizona, to block the expected transfer of 40 undocumented children from Central America to a nearby juvenile detention facility. So far the group, which includes members of the “patriot”/wingnut Arizona State Militia, has only blocked a bus carrying kids from a local YMCA. Like their friends in Murrieta, California, the Oracle heroes think the proper way to protest U.S. immigration policy is to threaten young children.
Their leader, Robert Skiba, previewed his plans to Breitbart News on Sunday. “We’ve got to wake people in America up,” the 85-year-old veteran declared. “This is our country. We’re just average people. [But] we’re not going to let them shove this down our throats … I’m used to controversy of all kinds, and people need leadership, and I’m going to provide them with leadership.”
Leadership is also coming from Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is trying to rival Maricosa County’s Joe Arpaio when it comes to macho intimidation of undocumented immigrants. Babeu, you may recall, had to abort a 2012 GOP congressional campaign when a gay ex-lover, who was Mexican, said Babeu threatened him with deportation if they broke up. (Babeu denied the charge.) Rather surreally, he’s become a national leader in the anti-immigration movement, and now he’s crusading against relocating 40 immigrant children to his county.
“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 in a statement to the Arizona Republic. “Local residents have every right to be upset and to protest.” Babeu insists, with no evidence, that the young men coming to Oracle may have ties to the Salvadoran gang MS-13, a common theme among right-wing vigilantes fighting the influx of undocumented kids.
The young people will be housed at an Oracle juvenile detention facility run by Rite of Passage, a Nevada nonprofit, in a spartan camp built years ago to house troubled boys. Robert Skiba seems a little unclear on the concept.
“Putting these 40 kids up in this beautiful place — this is like putting these kids in the country club,” he told Breitbart News. According to Babeu’s own office, the academy has added 30 staffers to care for the added children, a ratio of roughly one adult per child.
Skiba says he found out about the relocation plans from Babeu. “I choked,” the Air Force veteran told Breitbart News. He told Babeu, “We will take care of this.” Phoenix New Times reports that Skiba learned of the plans from Babeu at an NRA women’s luncheon in Tucson last week.
“We’re going to engage in peaceful assembly,” Skiba told New Times. “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.”
The crowd Skiba and Babeu have amassed includes some armed folks dressed in camouflage, including Arizona State Militia members guarding former Sen. Russell Pearse, the architect of the state’s SB 1070 “show us your papers” law.
Babeu says he’s urged his supporters not to block the road, and indeed, the crowd moved its vehicles after he came and addressed them. But later, they moved them back at the sight of an oncoming bus. It turned out to be a bus from a YMCA carrying local children.
“How do we know it’s the YMCA?” protesters shouted, according to an Arizona Republic reporter on the scene. But the buses were allowed to pass.
Not far away, some sane local people have organized a gathering to welcome the immigrant children. Wearing white, serenaded by mariachi bands and carrying signs saying “Bienvenidos,” they’re unlikely to change anyone’s minds, but they serve to remind us that Babeu’s angry army represents a minority of Americans, even if they’re disproportionately represented in the GOP base.