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Arizona county braces for arrival of unaccompanied immigrant children

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By Holly Yan

(CNN) -- The national debate over what to do with unaccompanied immigrant children will heat up Tuesday in Oracle, Arizona.

That's where federal officials are expected to send dozens of unaccompanied children Tuesday -- and where protesters on both sides of the issue are expected to turn out.

"During the past few days, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office has been informed by 'whistle blowers' in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security they plan to transfer between 40 and 60 unaccompanied illegal minors to the 'Sycamore Canyon Boys Ranch' in Oracle," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement on its Facebook page.

"Our office has communicated with Homeland Security to express our public safety and public health concerns. We have already reached out to the director of the Sycamore Canyon Boys Ranch who has confirmed Homeland Security has been in negotiations with the facility to temporarily house the minors," the Sheriff's Office said.

The Sycamore Canyon Academy in Oracle aims to help young men who may be struggling at home or in school. But it's not where the expected group of immigrant children should go, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said.

"These children should be returned to their home country -- not to Oracle, Arizona paid for by American taxpayers," Babeu said in the statement.

"We understand there will be protesters who support and oppose ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) bringing the foreign juveniles to Oracle. The Sheriff's Office will work to ensure the peace is maintained at these lawful assemblies."

Not alone

The tensions in Oracle mirror the strife this month in Murrieta, California. On July 1, a wall of angry protesters blocked three buses of undocumented immigrants from entering their community and forced them to turn around.

Demonstrators in Murrieta quarreled with counter-protesters over the country's immigration system.

"I just wish America would be America again because it's not, and it's not just pointed to the Hispanics," protester Ellen Meeks said. "Everybody needs to go through the legal ways."

But immigration rights advocate Enrique Morones likened the migration to a refugee crisis and suggested that racial antipathy was motivating protesters.

"If these children were from Canada, we would not be having this interview," he told CNN. "The parents have had enough. They are saying, 'If I don't send my child north, they are going to die.' "

Behind the surge

A mix of poverty, violence and smugglers' false promises has led to an influx of Central Americans -- including minors -- illegally entering the United States.

While critics say the federal government is failing to protect U.S. borders, the Department of Homeland Security said it is stepping up efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

On Monday, a group of about 40 mothers and children were deported on a chartered flight from the United States to Honduras.

"Our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will send recent illegal migrants back," Homeland Security said in a statement. "We expect additional migrants will be returned to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the coming days and weeks."

CNN's Evan Perez, Michael Martinez, Stephanie Elam and Traci Tamura contributed to this report.

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