Published August 26, 2014
At a luncheon in his honor in Sacramento, California, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lauded Monday the strong bonds between his country and the Golden State.
He praised California and its governor, Jerry Brown, for their support for immigrants, regardless of their status.
But Peña Nieto stayed clear of one topic that scores of protesters across the street from the historic Stanford Mansion were waiting for him to address — Mexico's incarceration of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held in a Tijuana jail since April after allegedly crossing the border with weapons.
At the protest outside the mansion, and on social media, supporters of Tahmooressi took exception to the Mexican president’s criticism earlier that day of states that have adopted a tough approach to undocumented immigrants.
“He wants something from Americans, but it would be a good first move strategically to give something to Americans,” said to Fox News Latino state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican and former gubernatorial candidate who helped organize the protest.
“Neither Gov. Brown nor Peña Nieto has spoken about this,” Donnelly said. “Sgt. Tahmooressi has already served more time than most serious criminals do in California.”
“Our goal in being here is to force them to address this issue,” Donnelly told FNL. “It would be a great opening in his state visit at this time. It would put him in the hearts of many American who are not happy with him.”
Tahmooressi, 25, has said that he was headed to dinner in San Ysidro on March 31 when he mistakenly wound up at a border crossing in Tijuana.
He said Mexican authorities found three guns inside the pick-up truck he had recently driven to California in a recent move from Florida to San Diego. He was jailed and is being held in a federal penitentiary in Tecate without bail.
About 150 people, many waving American flags or holding signs calling for the Marine to be set free, rallied across the street from the luncheon.
At least three Republican lawmakers, including Donnelly, rejected the lunch invitation from Brown as a show of protest.
While the demonstrators were kept across the street from the mansion, their chants of "Free our Marine" could be heard at the outdoor wine-and-appetizers reception that was being held for Peña Nieto. The governor, president and lawmakers then moved indoors for the lunch.
"The president is here and the governor could just say, 'Could you do me a favor?' But he refuses to," said protester Edward Doolin of Vacaville.
Other Republican lawmakers were critical of their colleagues protesting the visit of the Mexican president because of the Tahmooressi case.
State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside and a former Marine, said it did not help the process of trying to get Tahmooressi, an Afghanistan war veteran, back to the U.S.
"This is simply not the time to play politics when the well-being of this veteran's life hangs in the balance," Chavez said in a statement.
He said members of Congress were working behind the scenes to resolve the matter.
Assemblyman Don Wagner of Irvine criticized Donnelly directly, saying a sidewalk protest by a member of the Legislature is not an effective strategy.
"We do not need to stand on the street shouting the question when we can attend the lunch and ask the question directly," Wagner said in a statement.
In his letter to Brown declining the invitation for the Tuesday luncheon honoring Peña Nieto, Donnelly also took issue with the governor’s recent trip to Mexico and what he said was the governor’s failure to raise the issue of Tahmooressi's release.
"How you could visit Mexico and not publicly demand the release of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, is beyond me,” Donnelly said. “You had a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership by taking a stand for a California citizen that has put himself in harm’s way for our freedom."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.