Phoenix council denies sanctuary city request
PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday denied a citizen request to designate Phoenix a sanctuary city, but it will look at possible legal challenges the city could make to a state law that requires local police to comply with federal immigration enforcement.
The issue stemmed from President Trump's executive order penalizing jurisdictions that limit cooperation with agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Denial of the petition submitted by Phoenix resident Rick Robinson, a Republican, did not come as a surprise. The requested change to Phoenix police policy would have violated Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, which bars any Arizona city from becoming a sanctuary, and put the city at risk of losing millions of dollars. Mayor Greg Stanton and several council members spoke against approving the petition soon after receiving it.
But immigrants-rights groups rallied behind the proposal in recent weeks. The council's 7-2 vote brought chants of "shame on you" from supporters of the sanctuary-city designation.
Councilmen Jim Waring and Sal DiCiccio both opposed the petition but voted against the item because it included challenging SB 1070. Council members will consider possible legal avenues in an upcoming executive session, which is not open to the public.
DiCiccio said those private conversations would give cover to politicians reluctant to take a public position.
The decision followed more than an hour of of public testimony that at times was tense and personal. Meeting attendees on opposing sides interrupted one another, shouted insults and made obscene gestures.
Residents also addressed several council members directly, reminding them of the community members at risk of deportation who live in their districts. Others said they would work to defeat council members who did not support the petition.
Attendees who opposed sanctuary status emphasized that cities, and police officers, must follow the law. Some said they feared an increase in crime with a change in policy.
The city will take other steps, however. Stanton will form a City Council ad hoc subcommittee focused on the response to Trump's recent executive order. It will look at ways to improve policing within current state and federal laws and how to help families facing "potentially devastating circumstances," according to a memo.
Vice Mayor Kate Gallego, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela and Councilwoman Laura Pastor will serve as members. They will present findings to the council by March 31.
Pastor said in a statement that the committee is "an opportunity for change and action that will yield real results."
Stanton has repeatedly spoken against Trump's deportation plans and has said Phoenix will not participate in partnerships to escalate coordination between local police officers and federal enforcement agencies. He called the deportation last week of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos "a travesty" and criticized Trump for separating families.
Many meeting attendees faulted the Phoenix Police Department for clearing protesters trying to stop a van transporting her from an ICE facility. They said the agency — and the city — played a role in her deportation.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told the council that the department cannot choose which laws to follow.
SB 1070 requires officers to determine immigration status of people stopped or detained based if there's "reasonable suspicion" of a violation. Immigration status is verified by the federal government when people are arrested.
And in the case of Garcia de Rayos, the department had to fulfill its central role at the scene of the protest, Williams said.
“We were there to maintain the peace and keep the peace," she said.
Some council members said the immigration enforcement issues go beyond the scope of the city and police department. Several did not support challenging SB 1070.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld provisions of the law after lengthy legal battles. Phoenix wasn't a party, though, which means courts didn't necessarily consider city-specific arguments, City Attorney Brad Holm said.
But since the law has had repeated court fights, sanctuary supporters should instead look for action in Congress to allow people to enter the U.S. legally, Councilwoman Thelda Williams said.
“I think you need to focus on national efforts," she said.
Councilman Michael Nowakowski, on the other hand, wanted the city to act immediately against SB 1070. He said it's wrong that immigrants who provide vital services to the community also are called lawbreakers.
He said other cities could follow in fighting an "ugly, nasty, racist law."
"I believe the city of Phoenix needs to be that example," he said.
Follow Brenna Goth on Twitter: @BrennaGoth