Is Phoenix a Sanctuary City?


One of the areas of contention between the federal and the state agencies in Arizona today is whether Phoenix is a sanctuary city. Recently, Attorney General Mark Brnovich ruled that the city did not satisfy the requirements for being categorized as a sanctuary city for purposes of immigration control. This has important implications for immigrants and their families who are either visiting or staying in Phoenix.

“The reality is the City Council took a vote to not become a sanctuary city and the city has adopted policies which are entirely consistent with SB 1070,” Brnovich said in October 2017.

The city council was adamant that nothing in instructions ever violated any state and federal laws on illegal immigration. Instead, the statements that were released on behalf of the council were reclassified as nothing more than “aspirational language” that set out the values that the city sought to espouse rather than an actual policy change.

Currently, Phoenix has a policy of welcoming everybody to the city regardless of their immigration status. That does not mean actively thwarting the enforcement efforts of the federal authorities. Whether the federal government sees such statements in an optimistic way remains to be seen. However, as the law stands, this welcome by the city does not protect any resident or visitor from deportation.

Controversial Reviews of the SB 1070 Provisions

Following the passing of relevant resolutions, SB 1070 was subject to adverse media interest as well as support from some political actors. The government accountability and special litigation unit undertook a formal review that was designed to allay some of the fears of a city that was at risk of engaging in a protracted legal and economic battle with the federal government.

The Trump Administration has already indicated that there will be certain (as yet unspecified) restrictions in terms of access to federal funding for those cities that had sanctuary status. SB 1070 was passed in order to encourage the local law enforcement agencies to cooperate more with the federal agencies that were enforcing immigration law.

One of the contentions was that local officials were placing a “gloss” on the true meaning of the instrument. This was an operations order that was specifically designed in such a way as not to conflict with existing federal and state law. One of the key considerations in making this finding was the fact that Federal Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not include Phoenix on the list of communities that were being given a “last chance” to reform their sanctuary laws.

Intersections Between State, Federal, and Bylaws

The review distinguished between the actions of key officers and policies. SB 1070 urges police officers to attempt to ascertain the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect of being illegal immigrants. They also have to contact the Immigration and Customs officials when such a suspicion is confirmed.

If Phoenix was seen to be using bylaws in order to reject state and federal legislation, it might be open to retaliatory action as well as legal challenges. In an interview with Capital Media Services, the state attorney argued that local politicians were attempting to misinterpret the language of the order to score political points.

This could be a prototype of how the federal government deals with sanctuary cities, and that is why many legal and constitutional experts were paying attention to the developments in Phoenix. The council had directed the police department to align its protocols for handling illegal immigrants so that they are compliant with other cities in Arizona like Maricopa, Mesa, and Tucson.

What it all Means for Ordinary Citizens

If you are a legal resident or citizen, neither the law nor its conflicts affect you in any way. You are not required to report a suspected case of illegal immigration but will likewise not be penalized for reporting it. If you are an illegal immigrant or someone with unconfirmed status, you could be arrested if suspected and found to be living unlawfully in Phoenix.

Those who are in school have to be aware that although the law prevents officers from making checks near school grounds, they can still make checks of persons once they are off the premises or otherwise do a follow-up. Parents need to be aware that in any case, the parents and minors will be treated differently in terms of enforcing the law. An example of this are the dreamers who may be able to make certain representations or petitions for leniency.

So, what about people who are victims of a crime that was committed by an illegal immigrant? Under Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, you may be able to sue the state for damages. This depends on your ability to prove that there was negligence in terms of enforcing the immigration law and that you suffered substantial damage due to the crime.

Phoenix Is Not a Sanctuary City

To be clear, Phoenix is no longer a sanctuary city. That means that all undocumented residents and visitors face the prospect of being arrested and reported to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Before 2008, Phoenix was a sanctuary city, but then a vote reversed that decision.

A citizen request to re-designate the city by Rick Robinson (a registered Republican) was declined. Parents need to be particularly aware that having a child who is a US citizen or legal resident may not be sufficient to prevent deportation. Recently, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was controversially deported under the new rules.

The local law enforcement officers can check immigration status via the federal databases if someone is stopped, detained, or arrested and there is a reasonable suspicion that they do not have the right papers. This not only applies to those who do not have any right to be in the USA but also those who once had that right but have since violated immigration law.

Moreover, those that are convicted of a felony face automatic deportation and bans from ever entering the USA again. Even those that moved to Phoenix during its “sanctuary city” era are not immune from the new rules.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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