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Guest opinion

Sanctuary City: Prop. 205 and the emptiness of the status quo

On October 13, The Arizona Daily Star's Tim Steller published an opinion piece on Prop. 205, the sanctuary city initiative. Steller wrote the Yes and No camps present "competing visions of Tucson — the risk-taking, progressive city versus the risk-averse defenders of the local mainstream." At the end of the day, politics often comes down to precisely this.

What goes unexamined, and what Mayor Rothschild, Councilperson Kozachik, Chief Magnus, and other "No" proponents always fail to discuss is what the "mainstream" is — who the status quo helps, and who it abandons. If you favor the status quo, then by all means vote "No" on 205. However before you do, it is worth examining just what that status quo really is.

The status quo is the U.S. Army stringing razor wire through the heart of Nogales. It is the Border Patrol stopping — and often harassing — anyone driving from Ajo, Bisbee, and Sonoita. The status quo is the Southwest Key detention facility on Oracle, where migrant children are locked away behind concrete and iron, separated from their parents' embrace and often denied basic medical care and nutrition. The status quo is the over-policing and militarization of our communities, and the fourth-highest per capita incarceration rate in the world.

Rest assured, I can already hear the protests: "205 will change none of that! This is a solution in search of a problem!" The apparently solution-less problem is Tucson City Code and police general orders which do nothing to impede ICE and Border Patrol from partnering with TPD, or driving through Tucson every day and performing warrantless searches and seizures. (Ask an undocumented migrant if they fear TPD less than Border Patrol. Ask if they sleep soundly at night hoping the 3:00am pounding on their door comes with a police badge rather than an ICE vest.)

The status quo is TPD and the City of Tucson allowing the same Border Patrol that shoots and murders Mexicans through the border fence, that arrested Scott Warren, and destroyed thousands of gallons of water left in the desert to be cross-trained at TPD facilities, and share in TPD resources.

Only in a time as myopic and jaded as ours would so many people think the status quo is something worth defending.

Our public schools bleed teachers, dollars, and students. Our local economy is teetering and good jobs remain scarce. We are on the verge of an environmental catastrophe so enormous it will alter, and perhaps end, human civilization as we know it. What we call the status quo, and what so many seem so desperate to preserve, is what the status quo always has been: the exploitation and victimization of the many for the benefit of the few.

I can hear the retorts, can map them with weary familiarity. "205 is too extreme! It will endanger our Democratic candidates and our Democratic party!" Endanger what? A party that cannot inspire more than 40 percent of eligible voters to turn out for a municipal election? Our decades-long exile from the governor's office, and perpetual relegation to the legislative minority? Our crowning achievement of electing a U.S. senator who did not run as a Democrat, who voted to confirm Trump judges and his gangster attorney general, and who has expressed not one iota of interest in advocating for the poor and the downtrodden? Are we so scared of our own shadow we really think this is what achievement looks like?

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Sadly, all too often the answer is yes. Fear preserves the status quo, petrifies it. Fear of the other, the darker. Fear of the unintended consequences of fighting new battles and forging new paths. This fear invariably benefits the powerful at the expense of the powerless. When our leaders advocate for tougher drug laws, more prosecutions, and longer prison sentences we hear nothing about the unintended consequences of traumatized children, disrupted families, and broken communities. When they tell us free trade agreements will benefit all nations, we hear nothing about the unintended consequences of impoverished farmers, migrants fleeing imploding economies, or an ever-more-polluted planet. When they preach the benefits of local/federal law enforcement task forces, we hear nothing about the unintended consequences of an eroded Fourth Amendment, or militarized highways that wouldn't look out of place in war zones.

Twenty years from now, when the children and grandchildren of the status quo ask what they did to fight back and make a better world, how will they answer? Will the status quo reflect on this time with pride? Will they think back to Southwest Key and broken desert water jugs and family separation, and brag about non-binding resolutions and e-scooters? Will they claim tyranny could only be resisted with the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce? Will they insist a noble cause is worth fighting for only when victory is guaranteed beforehand?

When Hannah Arendt examined the lessons of 20th century totalitarianism she found resistance is never practically useless, even in the face of terror and death, because it inspires successors who win tomorrow what could not be won today. The status quo is no different. Most will acquiesce but some will refuse, and they will generate the sparks that transform cities and even nations. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice then away from it, but it is never straight for long. We decide which direction it takes.

- Joel Feinman is a criminal defense attorney, and the co-founder of the Peoples Defense Initiative.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Joel Feinman, one of the co-founders of the Peoples Defense Initiative, speaks during a fundraiser for Prop. 205 at Exo Coffee, Tuesday night.


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