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As Trump goes into office, Tucson protestors push for 'sanctuary city' declaration

Following the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Friday, around 200 people marked the occasion by marching to Tucson's City Hall, demanding the mayor and City Council declare Tucson a "sanctuary city."

Braving cold winds and rain, marchers gathered at the Mercado San Agustin, and walked along Congress past the federal courthouse where immigration cases, including those in a fast-track court system known as Operation Streamline, are held before gathering in the shadow of City Hall.

There Stteffanny Cott, 27, outlined what she feels is the danger that Trump's new administration is to Tucson's immigrant community, she said.

"He's promised to end DACA, which has provided relief from fear of deportation and persecution for almost a million of its recipeints; he's promised to deport up to three million immigrants—25,000 more than the Obama administration deported in eight years — and promised to build that God-forbidden wall," Cott said.

She added that Trump has almost promised to increase mandatory minimums for the benefit of the private prison industry, and reminded the crowd that the new president has promised to bar Muslims trying to enter the U.S. from certain countries.

"And, this is just on immigration, we can imagine what else is up his sleeve," Cott said.

While she supported the effort by Councilwoman Regina Romero to make the city "immigrant friendly," it isn't enough Cott said. Instead cities like Tucson need to take a "concrete position" and "have the courage to defend and protect our undocumented brothers and sisters."

While the possibility exists that Trump could go after Tucson and other cities, Cott said that it the community should act regardless. "We cannot allow the federal government to blackmail us and our local government into violating the basic human rights of our people," Cott said.

The demands by local marchers came just as Trump begins to assemble his cabinet, including retired Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, who took over Homeland Security following his confirmation on Friday.

While Tucson's leaders unanimously announced that the city is an "immigrant friendly community" during a meeting last month, Mayor Johnathan Rothschild made it clear that the city is not a "sanctuary city," avoiding a label that could come with major consequences as Trump has said that he wants to strip millions in federal funding from cities that make such announcements.

"It’s a term that has no definition and is being used to inflame passions on both sides," Rothschild said.

Instead, Tucson's leaders choose to outline a narrow policy that limits when Tucson Police Department officers can contact immigration authorities, a regulation made necessary especially after the fallout of Arizona controversial anti-immigration law, widely known as SB 1070.

Following a series of court challenges that tossed out nearly all of the law, a general order regarding immigration was developed that attempted to balance the "need for community trust and cooperation" against the remaining requirements of the bill. Former TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor was widely critical of SB 1070, but repeatedly argued that as a law enforcement officer he was required to follow the statute.

After six years of legal loggerheads, a federal judge approved an agreement that ended the final lawsuit over the law, and outlined how Arizona police officers could interpret it.

Local police officers cannot stop people solely to conduct immigration investigations, and they cannot hold people beyond the time necessary to deal with the reasons for a stop in order to investigate immigration status.

If police officers suspect that a person is in the country without authorization, they may contact immigration officials, including U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol, "unless doing so would prolong the stop or detention," the court-approved settlement said.

In the event that officers believe a federal criminal immigration crime has taken place, they may wait "a reasonable time" for federal officials, but if ICE or CBP fails to respond, or does not arrive within a reasonable amount of time, officers must release the person.

So-called "sanctuary cities" at times go a step further in limiting how jails work with ICE, which can include limiting, or refusing to follow, detention requests filed by immigration officials.

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While Tucson has avoided the declaration, other cities — including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — have pushed back, declaring that local police officers cannot work hand-in-hand with immigration authorities, while handing out municipal IDs for immigrants, and creating a legal fund designed to challenge the Trump administration. 

Trump has also vowed to go after undocumented immigrant communities in the United States, first by creating a "special deportation force" that would rapidly remove two to three million people from the country, and end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,  or DACA, an Obama-era program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation proceedings, and gives recipients a two-year work permit.

Organizers of the Tucson demonstration read a list of demands over a portable PA system Friday, and attempted to lead a delegation of about 25 people inside to present a letter to Mayor Rothschild.

Police refused to let such a large group into City Hall, and one of the organizers, Steffanny Cott, led the crowd in a chant to encourage Rothschild to come down from his office to meet with them.

Cott then carried a copy of the letter up to Rothschild's office on the top floor of City Hall, where she was told he was not there on Friday.

"It's time where we are right now, we cannot coddle elected officials, no matter how much we like them," said Zaira Lavier, a University of Arizona student and one of the organizers of the demonstration.

"We need to push and demand that they stay with us, and when they don't do enough, when they're playing politician, we have to say 'we're done with you' and then move forward," she said.

The term "sanctuary city" doesn't have a set of guidelines, she said, but it's important for cities like Tucson to commit.

"Give people an ID, have some funds set aside to defend people, in no way work with federal agencies to deport people, and make sure that there are consequences for police officers who cross the line and call ICE officials on their personal cellphones," she said.

"We would would like them to say that Tucson is a sanctuary city, but it's about the action. The resolution is nice and its great, it's a nice gesture, but it's not enough, we need to defend our community," said Lavier.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Zaira Lavier is a DACA recipient.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Steffanny Cott leads protestors on a march to the Tucson City Hall, where around 200 people demanded the Mayor and Council make Tucson a 'sanctuary city.'