TUCSON (CN) — Voters in Tucson, the home of the sanctuary movement that swept the nation in the 1980s, soundly rejected a return to those roots Tuesday.
The Tucson Families Free and Together voter initiative, which would have made Tucson Arizona’s first sanctuary city, failed with just 29% of roughly 82,000 votes — 33% turnout of registered voters, according to unofficial results posted on the city website.
Leaders of the People’s Defense Initiative, the nonprofit behind the proposed change to the city code, knew they were fighting an uphill battle, but executive director Zaira Livier said the fight was worth it.
“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,’” Livier told about 100 supporters when she announced the defeat.
Arizona law requires law enforcement officers to check immigration status when they have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country without proper documents. The failed proposition would have restricted where and when officers could ask about immigration status and require officers to have at least two distinct reasons to suspect undocumented status.
It would have prevented questioning about immigration status in hospitals, churches and city buildings.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the entire City Council — all Democrats — opposed the measure. In an Oct. 8 memo to the mayor and council, City Manager Mike Ortega, City Attorney Mike Rankin, and Police Chief Chris Magnus answered questions about it.
They said it could put at risk federal law enforcement grants and cooperation with federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Border Patrol, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, they wrote. The Ninth Circuit took some wind out of that argument last week in ruling the Trump administration cannot withhold grant money from sanctuary cities.
The Tucson Police Department general orders were meticulously written to minimize cooperation with immigration authorities while adhering to state law, Magnus said in the memo.
Livier said Tucson’s leaders failed the city when they opposed the ballot measure.
“That kind of leadership is for the past,” she told supporters Tuesday. “We are here to test you, and we are here to tell you that the bare minimum is no longer good enough. We expect better.”
In 1980, the Rev. John Fife at Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church started sheltering Central American immigrants from deportation, a movement that spread across the nation. Fife and others were prosecuted for it, and though Fife was convicted and sentenced to probation, he was later elected head of the Presbyterian Church USA.
In 2014, Southside Presbyterian again sheltered a family from deportation, under the Rev. Alison Harrington. That also prompted churches in other cities to follow suit. The current measure’s organizers debated whether to even use the word “sanctuary,” because it evokes strong emotions.
In the end, they decided to own it.
“We take it back.” Livier said. “We take it back, and we say there is nothing wrong with sanctuary. There is nothing wrong with protecting people that are undocumented.”
She praised the volunteers who operated the campaign on less than $20,000, raised mostly from “broke millennials” writing $10 checks, joking that the group’s next political action committee will be A Bunch of Broke Millennials, so ads will say “Paid for by A Bunch of Broke Millennials.”
If nothing else, the effort sent a message to undocumented people in the community, Livier said.
“We’ve proved to them that we love them, that we care for them and they are not disposable members of our community.”
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.