In the face of mounting economic pressure, Tucson became the first city to approve a legal challenge to Arizona's controversial new immigration law that requires local police to verify the status of those they "reasonably suspect" are here illegally.
The City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to sue the state to overturn SB 1070, with only Councilman Steve Kozachik voting no. City Attorney Mike Rankin said the city hasn't decided the timing for suing to block the law, which doesn't take effect until the end of July. Later Tuesday, the Flagstaff City Council voted to sue to stop SB 1070 from going into effect.
Tucson Councilwoman Regina Romero said the city's lawsuit will not cost taxpayers money, which is a key for a city facing a $33 million revenue shortfall next year.
Romero said the challenge would be filed by the city's in-house lawyers, and they would obtain outside counsel from other cities, counties and other entities without incurring additional costs or attorney's fees.
The new law is bad for the economy, could subject the city of Tucson to lawsuits and is unconstitutional, Romero said, adding "a legal challenge is the logical next step." She said the law encouraged racial profiling.
Mayor Bob Walkup said the law is based on a misguided notion illegal immigrants are bad for the area's quality of life and economy. "Frankly, I don't believe that's true," Walkup said.
Much of Tucson's economy is derived from Mexican tourists who come here to vacation and shop, Walkup said.
Kozachik said he voted no because we "need to de-escalate the conversation" and a lawsuit doesn't do that. He said the council needs to focus on its job.
"Is 1070 flawed? Sure," Kozachik said. "We need to focus this body on what this body is supposed to be doing."
He said there's blame to go around for opponents of the law as well, singling out Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who called for an economic boycott of the state. Kozachik said that amounted "kicking the low-income people in the state in the teeth."
The solid support to sue the state is in sharp contrast to a week ago when the council went into closed-door session and didn't take action. Several days after that meeting, three council members - Romero, Karin Uhlich and Richard Fimbres - announced their support for a lawsuit. They were unable to attract a fourth vote at that time.
After a week of demonstrations and being at the top of the national news agenda, however, the pendulum appears to have swung.
Councilwoman Shirley Scott didn't explain her shift. Before her vote, Scott noted only the San Diego City Council had voted to oppose SB 1070.
After the vote, Walkup said part of his conversion came after he was called by Portland, Ore., Mayor Sam Adams, who told him that major cities on the West Coast would boycott Arizona and all the cities in the state. Walkup said the cities he was told would boycott include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
With its vote to challenge the law, Walkup said he's hopeful they would now "exempt Tucson from the boycott."
Particularly at issue is Tucson's contract with Oregon Iron Works, Inc. to build streetcars for Tucson's $180 million modern streetcar project. The order is to be finalized next week, and Walkup said he was concerned the contract could be be caught up in the boycott.
In addition, Walkup said the orders from Tucson and Portland were intertwined, and he didn't want Portland's boycott to affect Tucson's streetcar contract with Oregon Iron Works. Walkup considers the streetcar his legacy as mayor after his years of cheerleading for downtown revitalization.
If Portland joined the boycott, Walkup said that could stop contracts for the streetcar only a week before they were finished.
"He didn't want to see that happen and neither did I," Walkup said of Adams. "I'm concerned about our relationship with the modern streetcar. ... It's not worth the risk."
Tucson's action is also decidedly different than that of city leaders in Phoenix. There, Mayor Phil Gordon said he and other Arizona mayors plan to file a challenge to the state's new immigration law, after the Phoenix City Council refused to support his call for action.
On Monday Phoenix City Attorney Gary Verburg said only the City Council has the power to authorize lawsuits. Gordon said the legal action he's talking about won't be funded by Phoenix taxpayers.
Council selects Cunningham
The City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to appoint Pima County Probation Officer Paul Cunningham to fill the vacant Ward 2 council seat. He will replace Rodney Glassman, who resigned in April to run for U.S. Senate.
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The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org