PHOENIX (CN) — Phoenix will not become a sanctuary city, after its City Council voted 7-2 against the measure Wednesday in a raucous and contentious meeting.
The vote came two weeks after a petition was submitted to the City Council by Rick Robinson, a two-time Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, requesting that Phoenix declare itself a sanctuary city — in effect, that it direct its police not to act as federal immigration officials.
Robinson submitted the petition after President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order, requiring “state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer.” Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.
For nearly two hours Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council heard emotional testimonies afternoon from both sides of the debate.
Vince Anselmo, of Riders USA, which says its mission is to defend the sovereignty of the United States, told the council at the standing-room-only meeting that they would be pandering to voters if they made Phoenix a sanctuary city.
“People who have come across the border illegally have in fact raped, murdered, stole from American citizens,” Anselmo said. “This needs to stop and sanctuary cities are a no-brainer and should be a no vote.”
Carlos Garcia, director of civil rights group Puente Arizona, cited the deportation of an undocumented immigrant to Mexico last week as cause for the council to act swiftly and vote affirmatively.
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two children born in the United States, was deported to Mexico after she was detained by ICE under Trump’s executive order. She had lived in the United States for 22 years after coming to the county when she was 14 years old. She was arrested in 2008 during a workplace raid under then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and was issued a deportation order in 2013.
“One thing we learned this last week is how ICE is going to function,” Carlos Garcia said during the meeting. “They are going to separate our families; they are going to move violently.”
Phoenix police enforce a provision of the controversial Arizona Senate Bill 1070 that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under that law, officers are required to check a person’s immigration status.
Most of the law’s other provisions were struck down by the court.
“The country is turning into Arizona; 1070 is moving nationally,” Garcia said. “What we care is that our families remain together, and the only way to do that is to move quickly.”
Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, one of the council’s three Republicans, told Garcia he has a lot of respect for him and for Puente’s members.
However, “You are going to be very disappointed by the end of this,” DiCiccio said. “The city of Phoenix will never be a sanctuary city. It doesn’t mean that people like myself don’t respect what you are trying to do out there.”
The council called on Police Chief Jeri Williams to speak at the meeting, and she said: “We are guided by state law. We don’t get to pick and choose.”
Most council members announced their intent to vote against the petition before the meeting, including Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat.
Stanton has indicated he is hesitant to use the city police force to enforce federal immigration law, but said at the meeting that he could not cast a vote that would break the law.
“Diverting our police department from its mission would shatter trust,” Stanton said. “This issue is settled as a matter of law. It was settled for Phoenix and any other Arizona city by Senate Bill 1070.”
The council voted to discuss in executive session potential legal options that the city could take against SB 1070.
DiCiccio said moving the matter to an executive session was a “B.S. move” and an “inside game.”
“It’s not going to happen with this council here,” DiCiccio said about any potential lawsuit challenging SB 1070. “We already follow federal and state law.”
According to the Pew Research Center, about 250,000 residents of Phoenix are undocumented.
The sanctuary city moniker takes its name from the Sanctuary Movement, which began at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson in the early 1980s. The Rev. John Fife wrote to immigration officials that he would open his church to refugees fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and that as refugees, he believed his guests were legally in the United States. The movement spread nationwide.
Tucson, unlike Phoenix, was then and remains a Democratic outpost in Republican Arizona.