Phoenix is reputed to be a sanctuary city, but would it really be affected by Arizona's new immigration law? The Associated Press 1998

When a federal judge ripped the heart out of SB 1070 yesterday, the bill's author said he was happy. Why? The real core of the bill, he said, was left in effect — the part that bans "sanctuary cities" in Arizona.

Specifically, Sen. Russell Pearce said "Striking down these sanctuary city policies has always been the number one priority of SB 1070. Judge Bolton has made it clear. These policies are illegal, and cities in violation will face signficant fines immediately. The political handcuffs are coming off law enforcement."

A surviving section of revised SB 1070 forbids state and local agencies from limiting the enforcement of federal immigration laws to "less than the full extent permitted by federal law."

I called and emailed Pearce's spokesman, Mike Philipsen, yesterday primarily to ask two questions: how does Sen. Pearce define a sanctuary city, and which cities in Arizona fit the description? I didn't hear back from Philipsen, but I think they're important questions in order to gauge the effects of SB 1070 and because sanctuary cities have become a hot topic within the immigration debate lately.

Specifically, many critics have said the Obama administration is being hypocritical by suing Arizona for trying to put in place a strong anti-illegal immigration law while leaving alone those cities that violate federal law by limiting cooperation with federal immigration law.

San Francisco seems to be the top example of a sanctuary city. The city has a 21-year-old ordinance banning city employees from cooperating with immigration investigations or spending city money on immigration investigations or inquiries.

The ordinance is in seeming violation of a 1996 federal law, which requires cooperation by state and local governments in sharing information about people's immigration status.

What's unclear to me is whether any Arizona cities have ordinances or policies that violate either the federal law or the new state law. One website lists four Arizona municipalities as sanctuary cities: Phoenix, Tucson, Chandler and Mesa.

That site defines a sanctuary city this way: "Generally, sanctuary policies instruct city employees not to notify the federal government of the presence of illegal aliens living in their communities." But I was able to get information on those four cities, and I don't see a sanctuary policy yet.

Phoenix, often reputed to be a sanctuary city, put in place a policy in May 2008 that requires officers to ask everyone they arrest about their immigration status. Tucson's city attorney, Mike Rankin, told me "The city has no policies, law, ordinances or regulations that prohibit or limit, the enforcement of federal immigration law. Chandler spokesman Nachie Marquez told me her city does not limit officers' ability to ask about a person's immigration status. And Mesa's special order 2009-01 (attached) requires officers to ask for the immigration status of arrestees and report illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Certainly, Pearce is right that this law seems likely to prevent cities from adopting sanctuary policies, but whether it will stop any existing sanctuary practices remains unclear to me. Maybe it is, as Mark Krikorian told me for today's story, more important symbolically than practicallyl.