Phoenix denies sanctuary city petition, immigrant advocates vow to continue push

Opponents display signs outside a Phoenix City Council meeting deciding whether Phoenix should declare itself a sanctuary city for immigrants and refugees. (Photo by Sarah Jarvis/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – After the Phoenix City Council voted Wednesday to deny a petition to make Phoenix a sanctuary city, immigrants rights groups said they would continue their push to mitigate fear of deportation among Arizona’s undocumented population.

Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Human Rights Movement, said Mayor Greg Stanton continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth by saying he’ll fight for immigrants but not voting in their favor. Garcia said the priority for Puente is to continue to protect and organize the community.

“Once we do that, we will continue to push elected officials … to make sure our families are safe and not at risk of deportation,” he said.

The council voted 7-2 to reject the citizen petition, with Stanton making the initial motion to reject it. Members voted 5-4 in favor of an amendment to create an executive committee that would discuss the legality of the remaining portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law that weren’t struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Garcia said the only way for the city of Phoenix to not deport immigrants is to defy and challenge Senate Bill 1070, the controversial immigration law. He said they look forward to what will come of the executive session.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio said the executive committee would have its discussions behind closed doors. He said this was a political move meant to help the sanctuary city issue fizzle out in city council.

But Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who proposed the amendment to continue the SB 1070 discussion, said it was important to “fight the challenge at the state.”

“We can’t just keep on passing the ball and letting this become a political football,” he said. “This is not a game for these individuals. Parents are being split up from their kids, and families are being broken up – it’s sad.”

Chants of “shame on you” and “not enough” erupted immediately after the council’s vote, which attracted a packed chamber crowd. Residents provided emotional testimony leading up to the vote. The audience was rowdy, often interrupting the council members, Stanton, Police Chief Jeri Williams and each other during the discussions.

Abril Gallardo, an organizer with Living United for Change in Arizona, said she was disappointed and believes the council members and Stanton used a humanitarian issue for political gain. She said she doesn’t see the need for the committee to evaluate SB 1070 when council members could have just voted on becoming a sanctuary city.

“From now on, when they create committees like this, they’re just prolonging the fear and the frustration and the panic in our communities and breaking the bridges that we are trying to build,” she said.

“This is not over,” she said. “We have families that continue to call our offices because they’re scared.”

Though there is no legal definition for sanctuary city, cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, such as Seattle and Philadelphia, limit the scope with which their local law enforcement works with the federal government to turn over undocumented immigrants.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office investigates the residency status of people arrested in the Phoenix when police book them into jail, per the provisions of SB 1070 that were held up by the U.S. Supreme Court. Jail officials send information about those who are undocumented to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The petition, created by Phoenix resident Rick Robinson, urged the city to opt out of Phoenix Police Operations order 4.48, which requires police to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Order 4.48 mandates that local law enforcement make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of someone they’ve stopped if they have reasonable suspicion they are undocumented.

Stanton has said that city law enforcement will not become a mass deportation force. But despite immigrants rights groups pressing him, he maintained that the issue of sanctuary cities in Arizona “is already settled by state law.”

“We must respect the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision and the rule of law,” Stanton said in a statement released earlier this month. “I will not ask Phoenix police officers to knowingly violate the law.”

A Phoenix Police spokesman said the department does not comment on pending legislation, though Williams attended Wednesday’s meeting to help clarify what officers do in regards to immigration law.

Supporters and opponents of Phoenix becoming a sanctuary city wait in a packed city council chamber for the meeting to begin.   (Photo taken by Sarah Jarvis/Cronkite News)

Supporters and opponents of Phoenix becoming a sanctuary city wait in a packed city council chamber for the meeting to begin. (Photo by Sarah Jarvis/Cronkite News)

City Manager Ed Zeurcher and City Attorney Brad Holm said in a report last week that the petition’s proposal was illegal and adopting it would demand that city council members “violate their oaths of office and take action that they have no authority to take.”

DiCiccio said in a statement last week that it was hypocritical of Stanton and other council members to voice support of protecting immigrants while working “behind the scenes to kill the sanctuary city proposal.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order prioritizing the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted or charged with criminal offenses. Last week, authorities deported a Mesa mother who had kept her appointments with immigration officials for eight years. In 2008, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was arrested during a workplace raid at a water park and convicted for criminal impersonation because she was using another person’s Social Security number.

Her deportation sparked protests and further motivated activist groups to make Phoenix a sanctuary city. She was referenced throughout Wednesday’s meeting – as a “felon” by those opposed to the petition and a “hero” by those in favor of it.

Anna Gaines, a retired teacher protesting the possibility of Phoenix becoming a sanctuary city outside the council chambers on Wednesday, said she believes Trump would take care of undocumented immigrants that legal residents have to support. She came to the U.S. from Mexico during the Vietnam war.

“Everybody’s welcome to come here – legally,” she said. “I did.”

Mullaney Hardesty, a demonstrator in favor of becoming a sanctuary city, said she wants to support the immigrant community any way she can.

“I’m going to keep showing up and keep pushing,” she said. “With the political climate that we’re in right now, immigrant communities need our support more than ever.”