Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Councilman: Tucson should honor Obama's immigration priorities
web only

Councilman: Tucson should honor Obama's immigration priorities

  • Updated

Tucson should change its policies to reflect President Obama’s recent executive action setting new priorities for immigration enforcement, City Councilman Steve Kozachik says.

But it’s too early to tell whether Obama’s priorities, set to go into effect on Jan. 5, 2015, will affect the implementation of state laws such as SB 1070.

On Nov. 20, Obama announced a sweeping plan to protect from deportation an estimated 4 million people who have been living in the United States for several years without authorization. The same day, the Department of Homeland Security, citing limited resources, issued new guidance on who is a priority for deportation, including which people agents and officers should stop, question and arrest, and which people they should detain or release.

The Homeland Security guidelines encourage officers to “exercise such discretion as early in the case or proceeding as possible” in order to put resources toward higher priorities, including deporting recent border crossers.

When it comes to people already booked, the administration is asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement to only transfer those in state or local custody if they belong in one of these groups:

  • Suspected terrorists
  • Convicted gang members
  • Convicted felons
  • Convicted of three or more misdemeanors other than minor traffic offenses
  • Convicted of significant misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or DUI.

If ICE doesn’t want to take custody of other migrants, Tucson Police “shouldn’t be calling, and the general orders should be changed to reflect that,” Kozachik said.

SB 1070 requires police officers to ask for proof of immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion that someone they stopped for some other reason is in the country illegally.

Because of an ongoing dispute over whether school resource officers can inquire about the legal status of students, the area’s largest school district — Tucson Unified — has expressed concern about allowing such officers on school grounds.

If police stop calling immigration authorities in most instances, “It opens the doors for easing TUSD’s concerns so we can get (officers) to their schools and begin healing the tensions of SB 1070,” Kozachik said.

Now, in order to comply with SB 1070, Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin said, the police department checks the status of everyone arrested prior to their release.

Officials are waiting for more information from the Department of Homeland Security before deciding if that should change.

“We essentially want to know whether our practice of calling or inquiring each time we do an arrest in the field interferes with their ability to prioritize their cases or not,” he said.

The federal government hasn’t issued any directives to local and state entities — and Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law, doubts it will.

“The local police will have to follow their own guidelines,” he said. “Even before this action was announced, many jurisdictions would not honor (immigration) detainers unless they followed any of their own priorities.”

It works both ways. In March, a Star investigation found that less than half the people Arizona Department of Public Safety officers suspected were in the country illegally were picked up by immigration authorities or booked into jail, where status is routinely checked.

The new guidelines are meant for federal officers, not state officers, said Paul Bender, who teaches courses on U.S. and Arizona constitutional law at Arizona State University.

“The state should not try to enforce them one way or the other,” he said. If they encounter someone who is undocumented, they should let the federal government know and let them decide what to do.

While the president’s executive action has not changed SB 1070, it certainly has an impact, said Andy Silverman, who teaches immigration law at the University of Arizona.

“1070 has been weakened in many ways, particularly by the courts,” he said. “Now, with both the executive order and the priorities set by the administration, it has really weakened it further.”

It may not be a good use of police resources, he said, to hold someone who is a victim or a witness of a crime or who is stopped for a minor traffic offense if such people don’t fit within the administration’s priorities.

“I would hope the priorities set up by the president would dictate or guide TPD in its decision of who they decide to contact immigration about and who they decide not to,” Silverman said.

“Immigration is still a federal issue, not a state issue.”

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at 573-4213 or

On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News