Neto’s Tucson: Becoming a sanctuary city is the right thing to do

Rosa Robledo has a simple, humane answer on why she supports an effort that would provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in Tucson.

“It will protect women and children from domestic abuse. They will be able to report the crimes to police,” said Robledo, a promotora with the YWCA. She works in Tucson’s Latino immigrant neighborhoods advising families on how to deal with domestic violence.

If Tucson were to become a sanctuary city, Tucson police investigating domestic violence would be prohibited from reporting the legal status of everyone involved to immigration agents, who would likely whisk them away, initiate deportation processes and cause families to be separated.

“Families will not call police and they will continue to live in a world of violence,” Robledo said. “That’s why Tucson must be a sanctuary city.”

Fernando Najera, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Arizona, also wants to see Tucson become a true immigrant friendly community as a sanctuary city. His undocumented family members, Tucson residents since 2001, clearly understand why it’s crucial.

Tucson police on two separate occasions stopped Najera’s dad for driving infractions. And neither time did the officers call immigration agents after his father could not provide sufficient identification to show legal residency.

“It’s not everybody’s story but it’s our story,” said Najera, a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient since 2015 who has some protection from deportation and works under a temporary permit.

Too many other undocumented families have not had that good fortune after being pulled over for traffic violations, ranging from overly tinted windows to a nonworking brake light. Tucson families have been torn apart after a parent was deported because of a broken tail light.

If Tucson becomes a sanctuary city, Najera’s parents and other undocumented immigrants would not live in constant fear of coming into contact with police who could call in immigration authorities.

“If we can’t agree that human life is valuable,” Najera said, “it’s because of the unacceptance of humanity.”

Regular readers of this column know where I stand on sanctuary: I support it.

It’s about civil rights. It’s about human rights. It is about giving some comfort and protection to some of the most vulnerable and fearful residents of Tucson.

In January, the People’s Defense Initiative launched its campaign, Tucson Families Free and Together, to collect about 9,200 valid signatures from Tucson voters to place the sanctuary initiative on the November ballot. The organizers have collected to date about 12,000 and have set a goal of gathering 20,000 in the next four weeks. They are confident it will be on the ballot.

Barring any serious legal challenges, the hard part of the campaign will begin, to help Tucson voters understand the value of the initiative and to get their approval on voting day.

“We’re saying we’re using direct democracy,” said initiative director Zaira Livier.

If it earns voters’ approval, the Tucson initiative would be the national spearhead of a citizens-led effort on sanctuary policy. While a number of cities and counties across the country have sanctuary, Livier said the policies were created and approved by local governments, not voters. And Tucson’s proposed policy is stronger than others.

The initiative is largely a response to Arizona’s nine-year-old SB 1070 law. While most of that law was rejected by federal courts, the “show-me-your-papers” provision is intact. Local police can interrogate people about their legal status.

The Tucson proposal would make it very difficult, almost impossible, for Tucson police to function as immigration agents, said Livier.

“It’s specifically Tucson-tailored,” Livier said.

Tucson has a history of helping undocumented immigrants. During the 1980s an international underground railroad assisted Central American migrants escaping war in their homelands. That sanctuary movement resurfaced during the Obama administration as deportation numbers rapidly rose. And today community groups and Tucson residents are pitching in to ease the burden of Central American migrants who are being apprehended in large numbers and released. Tucson also declared itself an immigrant welcoming city in 2012 but that didn’t set any hard policies.

As a sanctuary city there would be clear definable rules for local officials and institutions. It would give undocumented families and individuals some breathing room, although they would remain in limbo. Sanctuary would not legalize undocumented immigrants or allow them to legally work.

Sanctuary would reduce family separations. It would encourage undocumented immigrants to trust Tucson police knowing that the officers will not turn them in to ICE agents. Sanctuary would tell other Arizona communities and the country that all lives matter, including the lives of undocumented immigrants.

It’s the right thing to do.

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