As U.S. Attorney General William Barr ramps up legal efforts targeting local governments over so-called “sanctuary policies,” representatives from Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s Office said there are no immediate plans for changes to local practices, but affirmed their stance against immigration policies that might circumvent federal laws.
One-by-one, local news outlets were invited Tuesday to the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson to discuss Barr’s comments from a day earlier, where he announced a series of sweeping legal actions regarding local immigration policies, including a pair of new lawsuits against governments in New Jersey and Washington.
Barr also said the Department of Justice is reviewing whether jurisdictions are complying with criminal laws, including a statute against harboring or shielding undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and whether the federal government can subpoena information from local jurisdictions about suspects they are seeking to deport.
“Today is a significant escalation in the federal government’s effort to confront the resistance of sanctuary cities,” Barr told an audience of officers Monday at the National Sheriffs’ Association, remarks that were also posted on the DOJ’s website.
Barr’s announcement also came with the encouragement from DOJ headquarters for “robust local media engagement from every district.”
That included in Tucson, where assistant U.S. attorney Liza Granoff said during a roughly 15-minute interview that local laws “are working the way it should be” and that media sit-downs were intended to allay concerns of litigation in Southern Arizona.
“I don’t think that it is time for the alarm bells to be ringing,” said Granoff, who is the office’s border security coordinator. “I think that we as a district are actually very happy with our criminal enforcement efforts, so far. And what we wanted to do was sort of dispel any kind of either fears or concerns here in the district of Arizona because we do not have what we in the federal government would call sanctuary cities.”
The Trump administration has long sought to curb sanctuary cities, or jurisdictions around the country that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, either through litigation or threatening to withhold federal money.
While no local jurisdictions in Arizona meet the definition of a sanctuary city, and the city of Tucson overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposition to become one in November, law enforcement agencies in Tucson have adopted so-called “immigrant-friendly policies.”
Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier announced last July that the department would not engage in “proactive enforcement of federal immigration laws,” including asking for citizenship documentation when interviewing victims of crime, although they do call federal law enforcement when coming into contact with somebody without documentation.
“It would be much like if I went to your house and you were reporting a burglary and I said, ‘Where’s your car insurance?’ You’d go, ‘What? What’s that have to do with it?’” said Napier, who added that the department also has an anti-racial profiling policy.
Napier, who was in Washington, D.C., this week and met Barr at a Major County Sheriff’s Association event, said he doesn’t know how Barr’s announcement will affect local jurisdictions. But he added that there is a misconception from sheriffs from other parts of the country about what is happening in Pima County.
“Sheriffs assume that my jail must be completely full of undocumented persons,” he said, adding that only about 5% of the jail population is made up of undocumented persons.
“They believe that (the Sheriff’s Department) must be overrun with detainers in the jail, that it must be the worst problem ever because I’m so close to the border.”
Those efforts are similar at the Tucson Police Department, which enacted an immigration policy in the wake of SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law. The Police Department’s policy has been updated several times, but still prohibits immigration status as a reason for a traffic stop, and also states that witnesses and victims of crimes should not be asked about their immigration status, among other policies.
In a prepared statement, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the city and Police Chief Chris Magnus “remain steadfast” in their commitment that everyone can feel safe in their interactions with police, regardless of immigration status.
“It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration continues to bully local jurisdictions into complying with its draconian immigration policies by threatening legal action,” Romero said. “We have already made changes to TPD’s general orders to add further layers of protection that have withstood legal scrutiny, and will continue exploring ways to ensure Tucson remains welcoming to all.”
Granoff affirmed that the local U.S. Attorney’s Office’s relationship with local jurisdictions is “incredibly good,” even with the “immigrant-friendly” policies. But she added that “we don’t believe that sanctuary cities are a good idea.”
“We believe that having sanctuary cities really does harm the community and that there are grave safety concerns for the community,” she said. “We are very grateful here in Arizona that we do not have sanctuary cities, and our system is working the way that it is supposed to here in Arizona — as much as systems can work.”
Asked if the statement from Barr could result in future changes to local practices, Granoff said she’s not “going to interpret what (the attorney general) said, because it doesn’t really impact us here in Arizona.”
She declined to speculate which changes in local laws could result in federal legal action, but used Washington and New Jersey as examples. King County, Washington, where Seattle is located, has refused to allow the Department of Homeland Security to use its airport for deportation flights, while New Jersey has refused to share information about the immigration status of inmates.
“I think that really, for the most part, where we get concerned about is when cities start passing laws that obstruct criminal immigration efforts ... which is what those particular actions that Attorney General Barr was talking about focusing on,” Granoff said.
Curt Prendergast and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Justin Sayers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.