Steve Kozachik: Why I oppose the 'sanctuary initiative' for Tucson
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Steve Kozachik: Why I oppose the 'sanctuary initiative' for Tucson

In his March 8 Political Notebook, Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller wrote that I “spoke against” the Tucson Families Free and Together proposed ballot initiative at the most recent Pima County Democratic Party meeting.

That’s true. But the statement lacks any further explanation.

His piece was more focused on the internal changes that are happening within the Democratic Party leadership than with the initiative itself. But I have worked too hard on immigrant rights and protecting the dignity of asylum-seekers in this community to simply allow the statement that I oppose the Sanctuary Initiative to stand without any further explanation . As noted in his article, this is an issue ripe for labeling people. Let’s therefore look at the reasons I do not support this initiative and not let my opposition to simply hang out there, leaving people to wonder and leaving me subject to unfair labeling.

In its preamble, the initiative uses the term “sanctuary” twice. The term has no definition in law, and the initiative itself doesn’t attempt to give it one. The state of Vermont is being sued by the Trump administration for $2.1 million because it pursued sanctuary status. We can be compassionate to immigrants in ways that do not invite federal litigation.

The initiative does define “federal officer,” though. That is defined in Section 17-81 as a sworn peace officer “employed and certified by a Federal agency.” Later, in Section 17-85(c) the initiative prohibits the city from collaborating with those officers’ agencies unless the agency signs a formal memorandum of understanding that limits their arrest authority within the Tucson city limits.

No federal agency will sign such an agreement. That would mean the end of our ability to work collaboratively with agencies including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service and Homeland Security. We share fingerprint data daily with the FBI. We participate in opioid investigations and human-trafficking operations with federal agencies.

Last year, we collaborated with the DEA on a major spice bust in the city limits. We worked with the U.S. Marshals on busting a DUI hit-and-run suspect who had killed two Tucsonans in that incident. And we are applying for over $2 million in grant money that will help us accelerate the processing of rape analysis kits. The Sanctuary Initiative, by its own terms, places all of that at risk.

In Section 17-83(k) the initiative lists several Arizona Revised Statute sections by number only. In each case, it states the city is prohibited from asking immigration status questions of people detained or arrested for crimes committed under those laws. The laws referred to are child molestation, domestic violence, aggravated domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual conduct with a minor, sexual assault and sexual misconduct by a behavioral-health professional. I do not believe we should place “status”questions above our ability to fully investigate those crimes. We already protect victims of those crimes from being asked their status. We should not extend that protection to the criminals themselves.

How do we already protect victims from status questions? Through our Police General Orders. Those are our internal police policies that guide how TPD interacts with the public. Last year we worked directly with the ACLU in putting those general orders into place. We have nine pages of “Immigration Policy” orders that have been jointly agreed to with many of the same people who are now pursuing the Sanctuary Initiative.

The city of Phoenix modeled its General Orders after ours. The Arizona attorney general allowed the Phoenix orders to stand, largely because they were not adopted in an effort to establish sanctuary. I do not want to place our own orders at risk by adopting this initiative.

It was ironic that I read Steller’s piece online immediately after having spent over an hour touring would-be donors through the Benedictine Monastery. That evening we were housing between 200 and 300 guests, each fleeing persecution they experienced in Central America.

Our work at the Benedictine continues. I invite all who wish to participate in humanitarian work in a tangible way to bring donations to my Ward 6 office.

Because of our extensive Police General Orders, TPD turns about 20 people per year over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The evening I read the Steller article, we were touching the lives of more than 10 times the number of people than those who might be impacted by the changes proposed in the Sanctuary Initiative.

This is the work I do not want placed at risk by the Sanctuary Initiative being proposed by the well-meaning people who are now circulating petitions.

Steve Kozachik represents Ward 6 on the Tucson City Council.

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