Tucson voters reject sanctuary city initiative in landslide




Zaira Livier, director of People’s Defense Initiative, speaks to a crowd of Proposition 205 supporters on November 5, 2019. The ballot measure, which was overwhelmingly voted down, would’ve restricted Tucson police officers from verifying the immigration status of some people, as required by Arizona law, and limited collaborating with federal immigration authorities. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

An effort to limit Tucson police officers from inquiring about the immigration status of people they stop was voted down by a wide margin, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.

The ballot initiative, Proposition 205 — officially called Tucson Families Free and Together — was an affront to the existing provisions of Senate Bill 1070, a 2010 state law requiring local law enforcement agencies to determine the immigration status of people they stop, detain or arrest. 

The measure, also known as a sanctuary city proposal, failed by a landslide vote of 71% to 29%, unofficial results show. 

Prop. 205 was opposed by prominent officials in the largely Democrat-run city, including outgoing Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, city council members and the police chief, but was backed by the Pima County Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Gathered in a bar patio in South Tucson, the campaign that brought forward the Prop. 205 took in the resounding defeat.

“We lost the election,” said Zaira Livier, director of People’s Defense Initiative. 

Behind her stood a group of young faces who pushed the sanctuary city campaign forward by collecting signatures, knocking on doors, making phone calls and pushing back against arguments. She paused and looked up. In her left hand, she held a small red heart made of a smooth metal. As held the microphone steady close to her, her other hand twisted and turned the metal heart as if to relax herself. 

“And that sucks,” Livier said of the defeat, and let out a chuckle. She looked down to the metal heart she cupped in her left hand. That heart is a small urn that holds the ashes of her younger brother, Memo, who died in June 2018. 

Livier said her brother was deported because of SB1070. She said Memo was later “murdered, executed” in the state of Queretaro, in central Mexico. He was the inspiration for her work on immigration and on the sanctuary city initiative, she said. 

Speaking to the crowd of supporters that gathered Tuesday night, Livier said she felt lucky to have pushed for the issue of limiting local police’s work on immigration issues. 

“In 2019 when children are dying in Border Patrol custody, when our families are being deported, pulled over, detained and incarcerated, there is nothing more important than to say we will not stand for this,” she said. “This is about taking care of each other. At the end, that is the most important thing we can do as a community.”

The push to make Tucson a sanctuary city was outspent by the opposition. 

The political committee favoring the initiative, the People’s Defense Committee/Tucson Families Free and Together, raised almost $21,000, according to the latest campaign finance report. Together, two other campaign committees opposing Prop. 205 outraised it by far. The No on 205 committee raised almost $142,000 and the Citizens for a Safe and Prosperous Tucson raised approximately $3,230, according to campaign finance records. 

Joseph Morgan, spokesman for Citizens for a Safe and Prosperous Tucson, said he was ecstatic about the measure’s defeat. 

“We thank the people of Tucson for seeing the common sense of the situation. This would’ve been bad public policy,” he said. 

Morgan added that Tucson already has police policies to respect the rights of undocumented immigrants, and said those advocating for Prop. 205 were exaggerating the fear in undocumented immigrant communities in Tucson. 

“They were talking about it on hyperbole just because they are opposed to the rhetoric of the president of the United States,” Morgan said. 

In the months leading up to the November election, as several efforts to knock the sanctuary city initiative off the ballot failed, Republican state legislators chimed in on their intention to propose state-level penalties for Tucson if the proposal succeeded. 

Republican Reps. Bret Roberts and Mark Finchem, and Sen. Vince Leach said in an August press release they planned to support new legislation that strengthened the state’s law against sanctuary cities.

Rep. John Kavanaugh of Fountain Hills announced in October he planned to introduce legislation allowing people to sue cities for damages if they are harmed by restrictions to Arizona’s immigration enforcement law. Kavanagh’s seatmate, Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale, said he’d co-sponsor the proposal. 

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.