‘Sanctuary cities’ amendment would force police to do immigration enforcement, experts say




sanctuary cities amendment
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents arrest a person in an August 2019 enforcement sweep. Photo by Ron Rogers | public domain

Republican proposals to amend the state constitution to ban sanctuary jurisdictions would in essence force local law enforcement agencies to take direction from federal immigration officials to identify and detain people, according to local immigration experts.

Critics say the measures could go as far as mandating school districts, community colleges and county health center employees assist in immigration enforcement, and said the proposals are a return to 2010, when the Arizona legislature passed Senate Bill 1070, a largely unconstitutional bill on immigration enforcement, with support from then Gov. Jan Brewer.

“Forcing all local jurisdictions in the state to comply with every aspect of what (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is asking them to do is problematic,” said Adam Estle, with the Arizona chapter of the National Immigration Forum. “It’s too broad and sweeping, and doesn’t allow for local jurisdictions to make the decision that is best for their community.” 

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey called for the constitutional amendment last month in his state of the state speech. 

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, told Arizona Mirror in an email that interpretations like Estle’s are inaccurate. His office helped craft both Senate Concurrent Resolution 1007 and House Concurrent Resolution 2036, which have won broad support so far among Republican lawmakers. 

“The legislation does not take control from local police,” he said. “Nothing in the (amendment) requires the law enforcement entity to do anything.” 

But the language of SCR1007 and HCR2036 does require compliance with any order from ICE, which can without a warrant question and detain people it suspects are violating civil and criminal immigration laws. 

It states there can be no rule or regulation that “prohibits or restricts” law enforcement from complying with “a lawful notice, request or order” from immigration officials.

Latino, business groups leading opposition

The proposals have already drawn condemnation from Latino community leaders locally and nationally, from the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, and business groups like the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Local First Arizona. On Twitter, Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also warned against the proposed amendment.

This year’s immigration enforcement proposals at the legislature were expected.They followed the failure in 2019 of a ballot measure that would have made Tucson a sanctuary city. Among its provisions, it would have limited where and how Tucson police officers can determine someone’s immigration status, as is currently required for all law enforcement agencies under state law. 

Tensions over the proposals boiled over Feb. 13 in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, after Chairman Eddie Farnsworth shut down testimony from a lobbyist who called SB1070 and SCR1007 “racist.” 

Farnsworth, a Republican from Gilbert, later ordered the lobbyist, Hugo Polanco, and several people with Living United for Change Arizona to leave the room or face arrest. LUCHA has since filed an ethics complaint against Farnsworth alleging a “gross mishandling of a body that is supposed to be doing work for the people of Arizona.”

The Senate panel approved SCR1007 on a party-line vote, but the full Senate has not yet debated or voted on the measure. The House version, HCR2036, will be heard at a special meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 21. 

If the legislature approves SCR1007 and HCR2036 — introduced by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, respectively — voters would have to approve the amendment in November. If they do, Arizona would be the first state to have such requirements on immigration enforcement in its constitution.  

The Republican-led efforts against so-called sanctuary jurisdictions fall in line with President Donald Trump’s criticism and plans to pressure cities to cooperate with immigration officials.

What the proposals say

The proposals, which have identical language, contain two sections. 

The first says that no county, city, town or political subdivision can prohibit or restrict a law enforcement agency from “sharing, accepting, preserving, coordinating or collaborating with any federal, state or local government entity in order to determine the immigration status of any individual” unless doing so impedes a police investigation. 

The second section is broader, and the one that has drawn concern from migrant-rights groups, immigration lawyers and the National Immigration Forum, a group that works with law enforcement and faith leaders on immigration reform. 

It says county, city and town governments can’t prohibit or restrict police from “complying with a lawful notice, request or order” made by federal immigration officers. The section cites two parts of the Immigration Nationality Act — which outlines U.S. immigration policy and implementation — that give the U.S. Department Homeland Security authority to question and detain people they think are in violation of immigration law without a warrant.  

Immigration lawyers said this means police have to assist ICE whenever the federal agency makes a request.

“It is extremely concerning and disconcerting that they are going to mandate it within the constitution,” said Mo Goldman, a Tucson immigration lawyer. “We’ve seen so many people be caught in the web of ICE detention over the last several years, in the past decade, that are not threats to our society and they are not a security risk. This is again widening the net on that.”  

Ruben Reyes, a former chairman of the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the measures pose a “slippery slope” where police would feel they need to flag federal immigration officials about people they contact. 

“The language is awful,” he said. “There’s no oversight, accountability, or way to monitor the implementation of this. It’s troubling for me.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona also believes the amendment requires agencies other than police to collaborate with ICE, and would lead “to widespread abuses and violations of civil liberties.”

“SCR1007 would require any political subdivision in Arizona, including schools, universities and healthcare centers to coordinate and collaborate with federal immigration entities in determining the immigration status of any individual,” Darell Hill, ACLU’s policy director, said in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13. 

“SCR1007 turns every part of Arizona government into immigration enforcers, destroying the trust between community and government, and ensuring that untrained government officials be forced to comply with federal immigration authorities,” he said.

Political subdivisions often mean cities and towns, but can also cover community college and public school districts, said René Guillen, deputy director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. The group has not taken a position on SCR1007 or HCR2036.

Ducey punts on measure’s impact on police control

When Shope introduced HCR2036 on Feb. 5, Ducey sent out a series of tweets promoting the coalition of sheriffs in Cochise, Coconino and Yavapai counties and mayors of Casa Grande, Payson, Scottsdale and Yuma who back the proposal.

“I am glad to read the Governor is stepping up on this fractural division within our criminal justice system throughout the United States,” Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County said. “Additionally, sanctuary cities-governments only serve to erode the rule of law and provide a sheltered-venue for criminals to prey upon our good citizens.”

A week later, outside an Arizona Commerce Authority board of directors meeting, Ducey dismissed a question from the Mirror on whether the constitutional amendment would take control from law enforcement. 

“The specific language has not been presented to me yet,” Ducey said. 

When pressed on whether he had seen the language, Ducey punted. 

“We are vetting the specific language,” he said. 

The governor’s office said it helped write SCR1007 and HCR2036.

Ducey added the measure is a response to the failed 2019 ballot initiative in Tucson.

“I think that law enforcement entities should share information,” he said. “I don’t think they should be able to opt out of working with federal authorities.”  

Shope: No difference for ‘average citizen on the street’

Shope said the intent of his proposal is to ensure there are no limits on collaborations between the Department of Homeland Security and local police.

“We wouldn’t be running this constitutional amendment if I thought that chiefs or sheriffs or city councils or boards of supervisors should be able to determine in a wide swath what their interactions should be,” he said. 

Shope added that he doesn’t think HCR2036 forces police to cooperate with ICE operations.

While migrant community groups have warned SCR1007 and HCR2036 would embolden the targeting of Latino and immigrant communities, Shope said his main goal is to ensure measures like the one in Tucson are struck down in Arizona courts. 

“The difference is going to be mainly from the legal argument from the court’s perspective,” he said. “For the average citizen on the street, there will be almost no difference. This is about preparing and preventing court battles on that issue, should a city decide to go that route –  Tucson didn’t, but they could, or another jurisdiction.” 

In a Facebook post promoting SCR1007, Allen said her legislation would “require (counties, cities and towns) to uphold and support federal and state immigration laws.” 

Hispanic business group: Proposals are ‘divisive’

There’s no definition in federal or state law for sanctuary cities. It generally refers to places that limit cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, but that can mean many things. There are no sanctuary cities in Arizona. 

Many point to one of the few provisions in SB1070 that wasn’t overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as ban on sanctuary cities. It states, “No official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

That’s why Monica Villalobos, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said SCR1007 and HCR2036 are unnecessary. She called the proposals “divisive efforts” that “can be harmful to our economy and national reputation.”

“Latinos contribute more than $50 (billion) to our state’s economy,” Villalobos said in a written statement. “Our elected leaders should acknowledge and celebrate the significant contributions the Latino community makes to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of Arizona. Placing this referendum on the ballot will do exactly the opposite.”

A map compiled by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center shows no Arizona county has a prohibition on asking the immigration status of people at its jails, and none limit ICE from interrogating people in its facilities. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that opposes illegal immigration and seeks to scale back legal immigration, also doesn’t recognize any sanctuary cities or counties in Arizona. 

Alejandra Gomez, executive director of LUCHA, said the true goal of the proposed constitutional amendment isn’t about sanctuary cities.

“This is about Donald Trump and furthering his agenda, and assisting the targeting and profiling of our communities,” she said at a Feb. 18 press conference. 

Trump will hold a campaign rally in Phoenix on Feb. 19.

Longtime community organizer Salvador Reza also called on cities and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to break their silence and voice opposition to the Republican-led efforts. 

In a Feb. 19 statement, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, who opposed the sanctuary ballot initiative in November, said SCR1007 and HCR2036 are “politically-motivated” to bring out Republican voters in the general election.

“No amount of electoral success is worth the division that will be sewn throughout our communities if this initiative makes the ballot,” she said. “I strongly urge the governor and state legislature to reconsider this effort before they cause irreparable harm to communities throughout our state.”