Time to Take a Side: Should Phoenix Become a Sanctuary City?

Scene from Sunday's protest at Sky Harbor.
Scene from Sunday's protest at Sky Harbor. Melissa Fossum
Wednesday afternoon, Phoenix resident Rick Robinson stopped by the City Council with a petition that may force the city to decide whether it’s going to resist the Trump administration by becoming a sanctuary city and refusing to help deport undocumented immigrants.

According to city law, the council has 15 days to respond. So far, three of the eight city council members — Thelda Williams, Jim Waring, and Sal DiCiccio — have announced their opposition. The other five have not yet released statements and could not immediately be reached for comment. We’ll update this post when they do.

Phoenix is in an awkward position. Mayor Greg Stanton promised back in November that the police department “will never turn into a mass deportation force, even if the new government in Washington, D.C., threatens to revoke federal dollars.”

That led national news outlets including ABC, Politico, and Buzzfeed to label Phoenix a sanctuary city — an ambiguous term with no legal definition — and enraged local conservatives.

Also displeased? The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which sent a weird and aggressively pro-Trump open letter to Stanton, illogically accusing him of “ethnic bias.”

In a recent press release, the group states:

“Despite what politicians may think or want, police officers have to uphold their oaths of office and operate according to the rule of law. Presidential Executive Orders are federal law that cannot be disregarded simply because they do not comport with someone’s political agenda.”

But immigrant-rights groups aren’t happy with Stanton, either, because Phoenix hasn’t taken any concrete steps to prevent mass deportations. Last week, protesters gathered outside City Hall to demand real, meaningful action.

For example, People United For Justice wants the city to protect the personal information of municipal ID card holders so it doesn’t fall into the hands of immigration officers. The organization also wants Phoenix to open municipal buildings as sanctuaries for immigrants and other individuals whose rights are under attack in the new administration.

And most importantly, in order to truly become a sanctuary city, Phoenix needs to abolish Operation Order 4.48, which requires Phoenix police officers to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

If that happens, Phoenix could potentially lose federal funding under Trump’s new executive order. (Whether or not that executive order is even legally enforceable is another story.)

In any case, it's about time that the city commits to one side or the other.

Updated 1:26 p.m.: Mayor Greg Stanton has issued the following statement in response to the petition:

“Yesterday, a Republican political operative submitted a petition to the City Council asking us to violate state law — a position that he himself refuses to say he supports.

"There are some who are angry that I’m standing up to President Trump. But I am committed to doing what’s right and keeping our city safe. As long as I am mayor, Phoenix will not participate in the 287(g) program or enter into any other agreements with the Trump Administration that aim to implement his mass deportation plans — period. Doing so would shatter the trust between our officers and our community, making everybody less safe.

"The issue of whether any Arizona city can be a so-called ‘sanctuary city’ is already settled by state law. After a lengthy court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld portions of S.B. 1070 that apply to all Arizona cities — including Phoenix — nearly five years ago. Last fall, the state attorney general reached a settlement with civil rights groups, including the ACLU, on how S.B. 1070 is enforced, and Phoenix complies with those terms. We must respect the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision and the rule of law — and I will not ask Phoenix police officers to knowingly violate the law.

"Phoenix’s police department — and our officers — are exceptional. Over many years through community policing, they have earned the trust of the people they serve and have kept us safe, even when they have been asked to do more with less. It is deeply disappointing that one of the union presidents suggested that Phoenix adopt the same divisive tactics once employed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Voters of conservative Maricopa County overwhelmingly rejected those tactics just a few months ago, and I will continue to reject them in Phoenix.”

Updated Feb. 3rd, 1:09 p.m.: Councilwoman Debra Stark has announced that she plans to oppose the petition.
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.