TUCSON, AZ – Voters in one of Arizona's most liberal cities rejected an initiative Tuesday that would have made Tucson the state's only sanctuary city amid concerns that it went too far in restricting police officers.
The measure drew fierce opposition from the mayor and city council, all of them Democrats, who said the initiative risked public safety and millions of dollars the city gets from the state and federal governments.
The measure was pushed by activists who wanted to give a voice to Tucson's Latino community. They said it would have sent the message that immigrants are safe and protected in Tucson at a time when many are fearful of President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
The initiative, known as Proposition 205, would have put new restrictions on when police can inquire about immigration status or cooperate with federal law enforcement.
It explicitly aims to neuter a 2010 Arizona immigration law known as SB1070, which drew mass protests and a boycott of the state. It prohibits sanctuary cities in Arizona and requires police, when enforcing other laws, to verify the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Courts threw out much of the law but upheld the requirement for officers to check immigration papers.
"It will put into law that we will not, as we move forward, collaborate in the federal effort to terrorize, detain, separate and deport our community members," said Zaira Livier, executive director of the People's Defense Initiative, which organized the effort that became Proposition 205.
Tucson's mayor and city council members, all of them Democrats, were opposed to the measure because they worried about unintended consequences and the potential for losing millions of dollars in state and federal funding. They say Tucson police have already adopted rules that go as far as legally possible to restrict officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.
They say trying to enact tougher limits would run afoul of SB1070 and other state laws, endangering the state funds that make up a massive chunk of Tucson's city budget.
"The city of Tucson, in all respects except being labeled as such, operates as a sanctuary city," Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said.
The Trump administration has fought sanctuary cities and tried to restrict their access to federal grants. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Trump administration could consider cities' willingness to cooperate in immigration enforcement when doling out law enforcement money.
Both sides said the measure was likely to end up in court if it's approved.
To supporters, that's a chance to secure court rulings validating an extremely narrow interpretation of state laws requiring police to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Opponents see it as an expensive and likely fruitless endeavor.
The City Council in 2012 designated Tucson an "immigrant welcoming city," expressing support but stopping short of calling it a sanctuary city.
A handful of Republican state lawmakers have said they will pursue legislation to punish Tucson. Prior legislation approved by the GOP Legislature to tie the hands of liberal cities, including Tucson, allows the state to cut off funding for cities that pass laws conflicting with Arizona laws.
Meanwhile, Tucson voters elected their first Latina mayor. Regina Romero will be the first woman to lead Arizona's second-largest city after Phoenix, with a population of about 546,000 people.
Tucson's last Hispanic mayor was Estevan Ochoa, who was elected in 1875 — nearly four decades before Arizona became a state and just 21 years after the United States bought Southern Arizona, including Tucson, from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase.
Romero, who is on the city council, opposed the sanctuary city initiative, saying it's unnecessary given Tucson's welcoming attitude and policies toward immigrants.