Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Refugee Supporters & Anti-Immigrant Protesters Face Off in Oracle (Images)

Oracle, AZ protest

Supporters lined the main drag in Oracle, with bilingual or Spanish signs welcoming the the refugee children.

Demonstrators with dueling banners and ideologies lined the roads of rural Oracle, Arizona on Tuesday awaiting the arrival of 40-60 child refugees. An estimated 150 protesters, dozens of law enforcement officers (including the K-9 unit), and every TV, print, and online journalist imaginable came out to “greet” the bus of unaccompanied Central American children.

Oracle, Arizona protest

Oracle residents and other refugee supporters from Somos America, Progressive Democrats of America, South Side Presbyterian Church, and the Alliance for Global Justice gathered at 6:30 a.m.

The original anti-immigrant protest was organized by Oracle’s self-proclaimed “Paul Revere” Robert Skiba, who was tipped off regarding the busload of refugee children by Pinal County’s Tea Party Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu’s grandstanding on Facebook about the federal government’s failed immigration policies, and Skiba’s boasting about a bus blockade to multiple media outlets sparked a counter protest initiated by Oracle residents who were concerned about the welfare of the children. E-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter, blog posts like this one, and a re-Tweet by Rachel Maddow’s blog brought out the crowds, including sympathizers on both sides who drove in from Tucson and Phoenix.

Much of the media coverage has focused on tiny events that occurred during the four hours that we all waited for the bus to arrive.


Oracle, Arizona protest

Babeu talks with refugee supporters and the media before going to the Tea Party camp to hold a press conference in the middle of the road that no one was supposed to block.

CD1 Republican Candidate Adam Kwasman made headlines after he Tweeted about the scared children on the bus. Unfortunately for Kwasman, the two school buses who passed the groups were full of YMCA campers. The Y kids must have thought Oracle was a pretty schizophrenic town. As they passed the refugee supporters, we waved enthusiastically but wondered out loud why DHS put refugees on school buses. (The children and the bus drivers waved and smiled to us; they didn’t look scared to me!) When the buses got to the Tea Party corner, we heard shouting and lots of honking.

Other stories that hit big were the mariachis mixing it up with the Tea Party and Babeu holding court with the media. There has been much speculation– by the Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Central, and Facebook politicos– about Babeu’s motives for tipping off Skiba and firing up the Tea Party and the Arizona State Militia (J.T. Ready’s former group).

Tea Party

Except for a few tense moments, most of the day the Tea Party encampment was pretty calm. Lots of waiting, flags, and loud country music.

The untold story from Oracle is that of the humanitarian citizens who are concerned for the refugees’ welfare. Although there have been many estimates about the crowds, Babeu told the Tea Party camp that just as many or moresupporters were down the road, ready to welcome the children. At one point, there were approximately 100 refugee supporters lining American Ave. and the Mt. Lemmon Highway with Spanish or bilingual signs of welcome. It was difficult to estimate the Tea Party camp, a few miles down the road, since there were so many law enforcement officers and media there. I spent more than an hour at the Tea Party end, and I believe at most there were about 50-60 actual protesters and armed militia.

Oracle protest

The signs held by the two groups of protesters couldn’t have been more different in their messages. Here, a Spanish sign which reads: Friend, don’t be afraid. We are here defending your rights.

Throughout the day, there were rumors about when or if the buses would arrive. Although the crowds dwindled some, many held out until pro-pro-refugee organizer Frank Pierson told supporters that Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s office told them the buses were not coming that day, but that the children would come to Oracle in a few weeks.

At the supporter end of the road, the day closed with a group hug prayer led by Rev. John Fife, retired minister from the South Side Presbyterian Church and veteran Sanctuary Movement leader from the 1980s. Will there be a repeat of Tuesday in two weeks? Stay tuned.


Rev. John Fife

Rev. John Fife leading a prayer for the safety of the refugee children before supporters dispersed.


Tea Party

Anti-immigrant Tea Party signs.


Arizona militia

Armed Arizona State Militia (in other words citizens with guns and matching uniforms)


angel project

Shielding angels balanced the militia.


Tea Party

The image of this collection of signs went viral. Obviously, there were many signs and many messages, not just this one. These signs were on the corner where the refugee buses would have turned to go to Sycamore Academy.


refugee welcome

This sign was at the corner of American Ave. and Mount Lemmon Hwy.


Tea Party

Tea Party signature flag: Don’t Tread on Me.

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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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