Zaira Emiliana Livier

Zaira Emiliana Livier, director and co-founder at People’s Defense Initiative, is leading the effort to place Tucson Families Free & Together on November’s city election ballot, which would make Tucson a sanctuary city.

An initiative to make Tucson the state’s first “sanctuary city” seems headed to the November ballot.

The group behind the Tucson Families Free & Together ballot initiative, the People’s Defense Initiative, announced it was ready to turn roughly 18,000 qualifying signatures in to the Tucson City Clerk later this week.

The figure is nearly double the necessary amount to put the item before the voters in November but to also guard against expected legal challenges to some of those signatures — a common tactic used by political foes to disqualify initiatives and candidates from the ballot. The petition drive needs to collect 9,241 qualified signatures by July 5 to get on the November ballot.

The 18,000 signatures represent the maximum the group can turn into the city. The group said it was going to turn in the signatures Wednesday morning, then hold a news conference.

Officially, the city of Tucson is an “immigrant-welcoming city” — a designation it gave itself first in 2012 — that generally refers to jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.

There’s no universal definition of what makes a sanctuary city. The National Immigrant Legal Resource Center, based in San Francisco, describes it as a place that limits how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration officers.

City officials stress the city has never declared itself as a sanctuary city, nor does it have any policies or regulations that prohibit or limit the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The Tucson Families Free and Together initiative, supporters argue, would put the force of law behind many guidelines already in place here about circumstances under which police can ask about immigration status.

It would also add protections for some victims of crime and prohibit certain collaborations between city and federal agencies, among other measures.

City Attorney Mike Rankin earlier this year outlined in an eight-page memo a number of legal issues with the ballot initiative that could leave the city vulnerable to legal action from the state.

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One state lawmaker has already vowed to file a challenge with the state if the initiative is approved by city voters. The Trump administration has also taken steps to punish other sanctuary cities across the country, including threats to transfer large numbers of illegal immigrants in federal custody to those cities.

Rankin’s memo was provided to allow the City Council to evaluate the impact of the proposed ballot measure on the city, not in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election, if one was to be held.

The initiative language, Rankin wrote, conflicts with the controversial SB 1070, a state law that requires local police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if they suspect a person might be in the country illegally.

Billy Peard, an attorney with the initiative group, has rejected Rankin’s analysis, saying the proposed initiative language was crafted to avoid conflict with any state laws.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson