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What the Devil won't tell you

Prop. 205's demise can't keep us from considering humanity in migrant questions

'Sanctuary city' initiative panned at polls — what's next?

“It will be lawlessness, and I can guarantee you that people will leave. They‘ll sell their homes and leave, and who will buy them? No one wants to live in a sanctuary city and the idea that people will move here because of this is baloney.” — David Eppihimer, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, discussing Prop. 205, Tucson's doomed "sanctuary city" initiative.

You almost have to appreciate the irony of the hyperbole in projecting such a scorched-earth future for Tucson. It suggests a community of 1 million would wither and die if … if … local authorities can’t enforce federal immigration law. To be clear, the job of local police is to enforce state and local laws. Think homicides, robbery, sexual offenses. It’s not to police the Endangered Species Act, the Food and Drug Act or the Volcker Rule. It's beyond hyperbole to say Tucson would be rendered a lifeless tundra if city cops are barred from investigating the legal status of anyone and everyone they run into.

On the other hand, if the People’s Defense Initiative were serious about passing a ballot proposition defending the humanity of undocumented migrants, they wouldn’t have led with their chins in this campaign demanding the question be called the "sanctuary city initiative." It invites all the stereotypes and fear-center responses that are certain to doom ballot initiatives. And it was crafted in a way to (probably, maybe) not run afoul of SB 1070, the state law that enlists local police in the rounding up of illegal immigrants.

It’s just that busy voters, who aren't political junkies, would jump to the conclusion that Tucson was opting out of immigration law.

It makes me think they meant to lose. Prop. 205 backers wanted to be the French Army. Fight to the last advocate and celebrate the noble defeat. Mission accomplished. Voters cashiered Prop. 205 by 40 points, with it failing 71-29.

It’s one of the conceits of the True Progressives. They want all the credit for being on the people’s side by staking out the most strident position with relentless zeal and luxuriate in their unwillingness to compromise on behalf of the aforementioned people. They then confuse their defeat with an act of righteous immolation on behalf the people, who emerge from the escapade just as fucked as they were before.

Are you really on the people’s side if the afflicted only get relief that meets your unafflicted standards? 

Now that they've gone down to glorious defeat, how does the local community take any action to defend migrants here from the mango-colored nightmares concocted in the Oval Office?

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Donald Trump is testing our collective decency by modeling viciousness as a virtue in his slashing attacks on immigration, legal and otherwise. We should, I think, look for ways to pass that test because migrants are human beings, even if they are destroying our way of life by putting little mints on our hotel beds at night..

Salvage the doable

We could take parts of Prop. 205 that would seem popular and make them part of the city’s immigration policy. 

Don’t arrest patients in hospitals or kids in schools. 

Hell, the Tucson Police Department's immigration policy already makes allowances for cops to decide to be laser-focused on our local laws. Officers have discretion in a bunch of cases, including if asking immigration questions ruins an investigation involving the officers’ actual job.

Even Mark Napier, Pima County’s sheriff and highest-ranking Republican – no disrespect, Treasurer Beth Ford – has put out statements explaining why local cops shouldn’t deal with immigration as part of their main effort.

“If local law enforcement becomes proactive in immigration enforcement, we will not enhance public safety, but rather deteriorate it. People in our community without legal documentation must be able to come forward and interact with law enforcement as victims and witnesses to criminal activity. If these people cannot interact with local law enforcement out of fear of deportation, we create an entire block of our community that will be victims of crime with no recourse and will not be partners with the community in reporting crime. All people of Pima County must be able to interact with law enforcement without fear.”

Deporting witnesses and tipsters doesn't make for good crime fighting.

Protect humanitarians

Meanwhile, in U.S. District Court right now, Scott Warren is about to go on trial for a second time because he offered food, shelter and first aid to a pair of undocumented migrants. Warren is a geographer living in Ajo and a member of No More Deaths, an ecumenical organization seeking keep migrants from dying in the desert. The assistant U.S. attorney in the case says Warren violated the law. Period. End of story.

Ever ride with a speeder and not call the cops? Ever tell a teenager family member “if you are ever too drunk to drive, call me …”? Ever know someone who fudged their taxes and not called the Internal Revenue Service?

It’s a ridiculous idea that all of us are legally compelled to enforce every law we see broken, every statute we see violated and sick the cops on our every suspicion. 

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It’s one thing to tell commissioned officers they face disciplinary action to enforce a zero-tolerance policy. It’s another to tell the general population that they have to all but practice citizen arrests or face legal action.

Don’t get me wrong. Warren is not some “gosh-golly, who-me?” victim of random prosecution. He’s a soldier in the fight for more humane border policy. That may explain his first trial, which ended in a hung jury. His second trial seems like a newly minted U.S. attorney, like Michael Bailey, trying to please a xenophobic boss with the initials DJT.

The county could establish a policy to either provide a bunch of discretion or banning outright law enforcement from detaining and investigating people offering humanitarian aid. Supervisors already have voted to maintain water stations for migrants in the desert. So it's not a stretch.

The supervisors getting into law enforcement can get sticky quickly because voters have elected Napier to do that. They occasionally tangle with Napier over issues like Operation Stonegarden, a federal grant program that pays sheriff’s deputies overtime so they can help augment immigration enforcement by the feds.

Napier also supported converting part of the federal Stonegarden grant to providing shelter for migrants.

Hey maybe pull out of Stonegarden altogether and permanently. It just seems like profiling waiting to happen, to let commissioned officers initiate traffic stops so CBP agents can do their thing. Napier seems like a good egg but we don't write policy for the good eggs. We right it with the understanding that sour ones can come along.

What Arizona and America really need is an immigration law that doesn't create a giant black market for labor.  But Trump is president and we all know how he feels about non-Norwegian migrants.

Instead, President Trump has offered to send asylum seekers to “sanctuary cities” or states bucking his jihad against immigration – legal and otherwise. If you love them so much, why don’t you take them in yourselves … nyah nyah …). It's supposed to be punishment but I say: Hell yeah, bring them here.

We could decide to be a community that seeks even more refugees and asylum seekers than we already do.

That would require a coordinated effort prior to a crisis, like the crush of asylum seekers flooding to the border after Trump’s election. The city would have to do what it did to bring homelessness down. It identified capacities and the lacking thereof and then came up with an action plan to move people from the streets into work so the people could take it from there.

In Tucson, we have long said "the more the merrier." Sort of.

This is where the debate about migrants can turn on it’s head and ship a veteran “observer” (i.e., journalist who’s seen things) through the looking glass.

I covered migration for years. Cut my teeth on it in Flagstaff and Tucson before turning over to more generic politics. Democrats always hated it. Republicans always loved it. And when the Democrats finally managed to convince Republicans to tackle the issue of migration, they turned to the notion of costs and what, if anything, it cost us. 

There was also a kind of migration that lead to communities operating outside the law that probably should have applied to it. Yet the Arizona Legislature insisted on amnesty.

Republicans argued migrants weren’t just welcome, but were necessary to Tucson’s economy and Arizona’s fortunes.

These migrants, of course, were from Chicago, Iowa and Kansas.

"That’s different," you say; well indulge me for a moment. 

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No it’s not. I’m going to roll this across the room and see if the baby crawls. White-people money spends in equal measure to brown-people money. The currency can’t tell the difference.

Arizona’s economy has long depended on growth and the numbers were paramount. Place of origin was rarely brought up.

We could also take the opportunity to put together a citizens group to review what the trust costs and benefits are right here in Southern Arizona.

Back in the day, the county conducted such a study about growth and turned to Maeveen Behan, an Alabama woman with with one of those I.Q.s that gobbles noise and spits out signal (cancer took her prior to Xcel, so she’s not ruling the world).

Behan found the big loser in increased migration turned out to be the criminal justice system. As growth increased geometrically, those costs increased exponentially.

She also found growth did not pay for itself if it skirted subdivision rules through the simple act of subdividing land a few lots at a time and selling those lots individually. These “wildcat subdivisions” created population clusters that required no water, roads or sewers. Eventually, it would fall on county taxpayers to foot the bill to provide the services. Had they been “planned subdivisions,” the developer would have had to write the checks and include those services as part of a final platt.

In other words, it’s how you grow that matters. Same with immigration, which is growth by any other name and any other color.

Okie hobos

If you think the question about growth has never concerned legal Americans, well allow me to introduce Tom Prezelski. If a Prezelski twin tells you an obscure fact, take it to the bank, deposit it and live off the interest. It comes with no bubble.

He wrote for TucsonSentinel.com about how we out west have shown compassion toward migrants but that humanity got stretched  during the days of the Great Depression. 

This generosity had its limits, however. As early as 1931, officials expressed concern about transients arriving from out of state, and even the (charitable organizing council)  pledged to "resist an army of hoboes and tubercular patients," who, it was believed, were coming strictly to take advantage of local charity. 

The fact that this traffic seemed to increase when California passed a law requiring a three-year residence to be eligible for relief appeared to confirm this. The Board of Supervisors eventually passed an ordinance mirroring the California law, but for the time being, the O.C. and the county slowly found themselves overwhelmed.

The O.C. sought to limit its expenses by more narrowly defining what constituted a Tucsonan.

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For more on this form of historic otherism, see Steinbeck, John; Wrath, Grapes of.

We are the future

Tucson is at the gates of the immigration crisis/opportunity/domestic political holy war.

We are Des Moines’ future. We’re 47 percent white, 42 percent Latino in the city and 51-37 in the Pima County. Latinos here are a lot younger than the Anglos. Spanish is spoken out and about. There are tortillas and tripe on the shelves of our grocery store. Our cultures mesh and the only ones who seem to care about that right now are the super libs hot about how eating a chimichanga is some form of cultural genocide.

Honest to God, you could have told me we were 57 percent Anglo or 37 percent Anglo. I had no idea. It just doesn’t come up that much. 

I’ll grant you assimilation – especially first generation – can be spotty. Why they live in their own little communities like “Green Valley” and “Saddlebrook,” insisting on strange rituals like whacking a white ball over vast acres of green. They sap our social services, like Arizona Long-Term Care … oh, you are thinking of the other kind of assimilation.

Golly willickers grandpa! Why wouldn’t migrants from south of the border feel welcome?

“We’ll hunt you down, send you back, take your kids away and why the hell aren’t you coming to my barbecue like properly assimilated Okies?”

Voices like Eppihimer's are a part of our community but it doesn't mean we should give in to our fears over imposing some local empathy and humanity into the fight over immigration. Next time, let's try something that doesn't play into fear.

Immigration isn't an abstraction. It's the story of people too easily and falsely accused of corrupting a way of life established by those just like them. They woke up today just as screwed as they were yesterday. But hey, viva le France.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this column mis-cited the percentage of “yes” votes on Prop. 205.

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The people spoke and sunk the sanctuary city initiative during the 2019 city elections. So what now?


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