The ballots that landed in Tucson mailboxes contain routine political questions such as who’s the best candidate for this race? And, should elected officials get raises? But there was one philosophical question: Is taking a stand against federal immigration practices worth promised retribution from state lawmakers?
Tucson’s entirely Democratic slate of city leaders, who individually oppose the city’s sanctuary city ballot measure, say it’s not worth the risk. But as the November 5 election date draws closer, a trio of Republican legislators have pledged to make Tucson and any city that passes a sanctuary ordinance pay.
Reps. Bret Roberts, John Kavanagh and Jay Lawrence each plan to introduce bills next session to strengthen state laws against sanctuary cities and punish any locality that does pass a policy prohibiting police from asking about a person’s immigration status or working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Roberts, a freshman lawmaker from Maricopa, said he hopes Tucson voters think of his proposed legislation as they vote. He announced shortly after supporters of a sanctuary measure gathered enough signatures to send the issue to the ballot that he plans to introduce a bill that would let victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants sue the city of Tucson.
“I hope it does dissuade them,” Roberts said. “However, that won’t dissuade me in continuing with the legislation if [the ballot measure] fails. We have current statute in place, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”
So-called sanctuary cities have policies in place blocking local law enforcement officials from enforcing federal immigration law. These policies differ from city to city and state to state, but common themes include preventing local police from arresting or detaining people solely based on immigration detainees or asking witnesses, victims or suspects in crimes about their immigration status.
No Arizona cities are currently sanctuary cities. Several years ago, the Tucson Police Department began following a policy that prohibits officers from asking witnesses or victims about their immigration status.
This year’s Tucson Proposition 205 would also prohibit officers from investigating the immigration status of anyone arrested in a school, hospital, church or state or local court building. And it would require that any officer who investigates whether a detainee is legally in the country first provide two reasons for that suspicion, without considering factors that include the detainee’s name, ethnicity, ability to speak English, accent or presence in an overcrowded car or known hangout of undocumented immigrants.
The measure also prohibits the city of Tucson from working with any federal law enforcement agency unless that agency signs a memorandum agreeing not to enforce federal immigration law within the city.
Kavanagh and others contend state law already prohibits Tucson or any other local jurisdiction from becoming a sanctuary city. The first section of SB1070, the state’s controversial 2010 immigration law, states that no counties, cities or towns may adopt policies limiting or restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws, and that law enforcement officials must attempt to determine an arrestee’s immigration status if they have reason to suspect the person is not in the country legally.
While much of SB1070 has been overturned by court order or rolled back as part of a legal settlement, those clauses remain in effect.
“I’m hoping that Tucson voters, knowing that they would be breaking state law, vote against it,” Kavanagh said. “The bottom line is this is a violation of state law.”
Legislation planned by Roberts, Kavanagh and Lawrence moves beyond the ban on sanctuary cities in SB1070.
As written, Roberts’ bill would make sanctuary cities civilly liable for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants who are sentenced to 1 year or more in prison.
“The purpose is to provide a clear civil path to have the victim or their family members be able to hold that entity liable — in other words, to go back and sue them civilly,” Roberts said.
It also would add language to state statute clarifying that sheriffs have the authority to cooperate with ICE, because Roberts said he’s heard conflicting reports from federal and local law enforcement officials about whether sheriffs’ deputies and ICE officers can work together.
He said the bill will provide leeway on when local law enforcement agencies must contact federal immigration officials.
“I would prefer not to dictate to a police agency how they do their job when they’re in the middle of an investigation,” Roberts said. “My intention is that when they are in custody, (arresting agencies) need to be doing what they need to do and communicating with federal agencies.”
Kavanagh’s proposal, similarly, creates civil liability for cities like Tucson if local police do not contact ICE or detain an undocumented immigrant who goes on to be convicted of a felony.
“This is about compensating victims of Tucson’s actions,” he said.
Lawrence’s proposed bill would bar cities and counties from passing or enforcing any policies that prohibit immigration enforcement and “further stop cities and towns in Arizona from ignoring their obligation to enforce immigration laws” according to a press release. He has not returned phone calls seeking more information about details of the planned legislation.
These planned bills come as no surprise to Tucson city leaders, who anticipate a prompt lawsuit and the potential loss of millions of dollars if the sanctuary measure passes, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said. He described Kavanagh and lawmakers who have pledged to support such legislation as the “usual suspects” eager to punish the city of Tucson — even though the city’s elected councilors and mayor all oppose the measure.
“I’m not surprised that they’ve already got both barrels loaded and aimed at Tucson,” Kozachik said. “I would hope that these geniuses in the Legislature understand that we’re not moving this thing, the voters are moving it.”
Even without the planned legislation from Roberts, Kavanagh and Lawrence, lawmakers have recourse to financially penalize cities for passing policies that conflict with state law. A 2016 law allows any lawmaker to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether a city action conflicts with state law, and if it does, the city can lose its state shared revenue.
Tucson gets about $135 million annually in state shared revenue, and that makes up about a quarter of the city’s general fund, Kozachik said.
And the sanctuary city measure will certainly result in a lawsuit, Kozachik said.
“If it is adopted by the voters, I fully expect to be sued by the state, and when we lose, because we’ll lose with the Ducey-packed Supreme Court, we’ll have to take it back to the voters to rescind it,” he said.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, supports the sanctuary city initiative. But she said she understood where city councilors stand.
“If I was on the city council or the county supervisors, I would make the same decision: ‘I’m not touching this because I know those people up there in the Legislature. They’re crazy, they’ll come after our money,’” Steele said. “And they will. They absolutely will.”
She said supporters of the initiative are holding out hope that the decision coming from Tucson voters, instead of through a city-enacted ordinance, will prevent lawmakers from financially punishing the city.
“I know that this initiative was written so it’s not the city leaders that are doing this,” she said. “It’s the voters. It’s the people.”