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'Sanctuary city' initiative heading to Tucson voters as backers submit petitions

After months of work, organizers for an initiative to make Tucson a "sanctuary city," said Wednesday that they submitted some 17,000 signatures, nearly double the number they need to get the initiative on November's ballot.

The group, the People's Defense Initiative, has been collecting signatures since Dec. 8 to put the initiative, "Tucson Families Free & Together," on the ballot. On Wednesday, they said they had collected, and were prepared to submit, 18,155 signatures to the city clerk's office, nearly double the the 9,241 signatures the group needed to put the initiative on the ballot.

A quick review by city officials found 17,403 of those signatures to have come from eligible voters, one of the organizers said.

The campaign turned their signatures in two days before the deadline, and with nearly twice the number of signatures the group needed. Although local Republicans have vowed to closely scrutinize the petitions, the numbers are likely to protect the initiative from potential challenges. 

The notion of city-wide sanctuary policy for immigrants has been controversial for more than a decade, but under the Trump administration it has taken on new meaning, as the president and White House officials have repeatedly attacked so-called "sanctuary cities," complaining that such policies protect criminals. 

At one point, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement published a list of sanctuary cities, though the list was so flawed that the agency withdrew it after a few months. Later, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to use grant funding as leverage to force cities to withdraw so-called "sanctuary city" policies, but a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction in Feb. 19 limiting the maneuver. The Trump administration also lost in a similar case after the city of Philadelphia challenged the restriction, and a three-judge panel at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court judge, who said the attempt to impose conditions on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant was "arbitrary and capricious." 

While she waited for the count at the city elections office Wednesday, Zaira Livier, the campaign manager for People's Defense Initiative, described what the effort meant to her.

"Well, either we are the luckiest people on the planet to have the honor to lead this effort, or we are the most unluckiest people on the planet for having the honor to lead this effort. The verdict is still out on that one," she said. 

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Livier said that during the petition drive, many people asked, "What does 'sanctuary' mean?" 

"And almost every person that asked this question signed because the proposed policies made perfect sense to them," Livier said.

The initiative, if passed by voters, will add a new section to the Tucson City Code, mainly placing restrictions on law enforcement activities.

For her, turning in the signatures was "bittersweet" because it came on the anniversary of her brother's funeral. Her brother, Said Serrato, who lived in Tucson before he was deported, was killed in Mexico in June 2018. Livier spent a month raising money to bring her brother's body back to Arizona.

"For me personally, I buried my brother exactly a year ago, so it is a bittersweet moment, but I am hopeful and our community is hopeful," Livier said. "That is what this is—it’s a campaign of hope." 

She also said that people asked about federal funding, but that organizers found this was an easy question to answer. Federal officials have "a changing definition of sanctuary," she said, "and it relates to ICE detainees in the jails." 

But, "Tucson doesn’t have jurisdiction over the county jail therefore that policy is not in our initiative," she said, and noted that courts have rejected attempts to withhold funds based on city's sanctuary policy.

City officials point to potential legal pitfalls

City officials have balked at the initiative. In January, City Attorney Mike Rankin said that parts of the initiative are "in direct conflict" with Arizona's controversial SB1070. 

Rankin, in a memo prepared for the mayor and City Council, said that the measure would violate state law in some aspects, and limit local cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, Marshals Service or DEA, if they did not sign a special agreement with Tucson. He also said that parts of the proposed ordinance were legally unenforceable as written, and said that the measure could provide protection against immigration inquiries for people charged with domestic violence and sexual assault.

Organizers said they specifically wrote the measure to withstand challenges, that it was designed to make some criminal investigations more effective, and purposefully used the word "sanctuary" in the initiative.

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No current members of the Tucson City Council have publicly supported the measure. None of the candidates running for mayor are backers of the initiative, and only a couple of the four Democratic primary candidates in Ward 1 on the West Side have said they are in favor of it.

In their own memo in response to Rankin's, the group behind the initiative argued that the provisions would not "hinder" law enforcement, and that the proposed ordinance would bring Tucson police policies "into line with long-standing federal guidelines." 

If the initiative is approved by city voters and becomes a city ordinance, the state attorney general could file a lawsuit in the Arizona Supreme Court. However, the authors of the initiative, including Billy Peard, former staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, have said that the law was "custom-crafted" to solve these issues, and other legal observers have said that the initiative is "very crafty." 

Josh Nuñez, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in immigration law, said he does believe there is a "cause for concern with the initiative.”

"However, I think that the way that the initiative is written is very crafty. It’s written in a very smart manner that I think allows for the possibility that if the people of Tucson vote in favor of initiative, then it might stand a constitutional challenge," he said.

Livier said that Tucson Families Free & Together was necessary because of "the political climate and the anti-immigrant and inhumane efforts of the trump administration." 

"This administration has really pulled the mask off and has shown the entire country what U.S. immigration policies truly are," she said. "Tucson understands that sanctuary is not controversial, but separating families and caging children is." 

In recent months, images and descriptions of the treatment of migrant children, as well as last year's disastrous and controversial policy of separating children from their parents in an attempt to stymie immigrants from coming to the U.S. and seeking asylum, has set the tone of a wider fight over immigration. 

And, Tucson she said, "has a history of standing on the right side of issues. The community at large stands with migrants. We understand that families should be kept together. We understand SB1070 is racist and immoral," Livier said. 

Since December 8, nearly 150 volunteers backed by eight paid canvassers worked more than 1,900 hours to collect the signatures in 740 shifts, the initiative's backers said. The effort was backed by nearly 30 other community groups in Tucson.

GOP vows challenge

Pima County Republicans said they were planning on challenging the signatures

In a Facebook post and email, Chairman David Eppihimer asked for volunteers to review the signatures before a July 13 deadline. 

"If enough unqualified signatures are discovered, the Pima County Republican Party will challenge these petitions through every legal process available, so that this misguided effort never reaches the ballot," he wrote.  

"In this town, defeating a ballot measure titled Keep Families Together will be an uphill climb," Eppihimer said.

Opponents have 10 days to file a challenge, and have to find at least 8,162 of the signatures were from ineligible people — those who live outside the city or aren't registered to vote, or who otherwise improperly signed the petition.

Livier called the GOP's attempt to review signatures "a laughable effort." 

"They couldn’t organize themselves to get to the kitchen of their own home," she said." Our team is skilled, experienced, and strong. If they bring a fight, they will do what they do best—fail miserably," Livier said. 

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Livier said collecting signatures was difficult work, not only because of the heat, but because "people feel very vulnerable" when tasked with knocking on doors. "Sometimes it’s great and other times it’s really difficult," she said. "You never know who you are approaching or how they will react." 

When asked what was next after submitting the signatures, Livier said: "Phase 2. Winning."  The campaign will use "good old fashioned field work," which includes knocking on doors and "talking to voters and the community at large," she said. 

"We're really looking forward to it," Livier said. 

"When the government fails to provide safety and justice it is up to the community go fight for it," Livier said. "And that’s what we are doing We’re using our right to direct democracy." 

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 5 »

Jul 16, 2019, 5:24 pm
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I would be in favor of cutting-off all Federal funds to Tucson that are in the pipeline.  Last year the Supervisors refused the Stone Garden funds that the Pima County Sheriff’s Department relies on.  That was, of course, Liberal idiocy, subsequently reversed. and you would be astonished at the influence self-appointed activists from Ajo had to do with it.  They want a weak Federal & police presence along the border, as opposed to managing the immigration crisis with proper funding and a coordinated response.  Keep our tax money, and start arresting folks who interfere with The Border Patrol and I.C.E.  Tucson will see reason.

Jul 9, 2019, 7:51 am
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The list of signatures should be made public.

Jul 4, 2019, 7:28 pm
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Democrat 2020 Platform & Goals:

-Open Borders.
-Sanctuary Cities.
-Decriminalize illegal entry into our country.
-Elimination of ICE
-Same sex marriages.
-Disarming Americans.
-Voting rights for illegal aliens.
-Pack the courts with radical liberal judges (Like the 9th circuit)
-Increase refugee’s from the third world.
-Illegal aliens allowed to hold public office.
-Free Abortions for all (Taxpayer funded)
-The green new deal.
-End of Electoral College
-Free Medicare care for all including non citizens (taxpayer funded)
-Raise Minimum Wage (expect massive reduction in full time jobs & loss of health benefits)
-Have adolescents vote.
-!00% free college for all, including non citizens. (tax payer funded)
-Reparations for every race “harmed” by the white man.
-Convicts, Terrorists voting.
-Susie & Bobby using the same restrooms.
-Late term abortions up to 9 months..
-Pay check for every person in the US even if they choose not to work.

*Sources: Straight from the Democrat’s mouths. View their speeches on you tube.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Zaira Livier, during an event launching the petition drive in January.


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