SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Tuesday was greeted by dozens of protesters in California criticizing his country's detention of a U.S. Marine.
About 150 people, many waving American flags or holding signs calling for the Marine to be set free, rallied across the street from the historic Stanford Mansion, where a lunch reception for the president was being held on the last day of his two-day visit to the state.
At least three Republican lawmakers rejected the lunch invitation from Gov. Jerry Brown to protest Mexico's incarceration of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held since April after crossing the border with weapons.
"It's so nice to have teamwork for a change," said state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a former gubernatorial candidate, referring to his colleagues who also decided to bypass the lunch.
Donnelly was the only lawmaker to join the 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 Pena 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.
Later Tuesday, Pena Nieto is scheduled to address a joint-session of the Legislature. At an event Monday in Los Angeles, Pena Nieto and Brown addressed the need for immigration reform.
The Democratic governor visited Mexico — California's largest export market — earlier this summer to address trade and climate change.