Phoenix Clarifies Where It Stands on U.S. Immigration Policy

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona


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The city has revised protocols for school resource and traffic officers and publicized those reforms to alleviate immigrant residents’ fears they’re being profiled.

Federal and state efforts to preempt local immigration policies led the city of Phoenix to clarify for immigrant residents the service delivery they can expect from agencies like the police department moving forward.

The nation's fifth-largest city has a majority-minority population of 1.6 million residents and has been paying close attention to federal regulations attempting to curtail grant funding to sanctuary jurisdictions.

Officials have made clear there are limits to how far they will assist federal immigration enforcement as a condition of accepting federal dollars.

“We are not a federal immigration enforcement agency,” Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney said during a Tuesday afternoon conference call organized by the International City / County Management Association. “And we do not purport to be one.”

Instead, Phoenix has attempted to alleviate heightened fears among its immigrant community that they or their undocumented family members might be deported for seeking government assistance, police aid or health care services.

City government has established contractual relationships with schools systems for resource officers and felt obligated to revise protocols for how they conduct themselves around students to build trust. School resource officers are barred from asking students whether they or their loved ones are undocumented.

A change was also made to a police operations order prohibiting similar questioning during traffic stops, and the community was notified of both reforms to mitigate concerns they might be profiled.

“Many of our elected leaders are very angry right now about the tone and the tenor of the current [Trump] administration and the disrespect it is showing immigrant families,” said Rosalind Gold, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund's senior director of policy, research and advocacy.

Local officials are on the front lines of the immigration fight, she said, and it’s important they make local law enforcement their priority over immigration enforcement. To do otherwise diverts resources away from public safety concerns, fuels community distrust and deters immigrants from reporting crimes they’ve been victims or witnesses of—making it harder for police to do their jobs.

In an effort to better reflect the communities they serve, local law enforcement should also train officers to speak the language of large immigrant groups in their areas to better communicate with them, said Veronica Briseño, the director of Austin's Department of Small and Minority Business Resources.

Immigration law isn’t the only federal law local police aren’t expected to enforce because of the complexities and the likelihood immigrants would be exploited, said Ron Carlee, the director of Old Dominion University's Center for Regional Excellence.

“Most cities probably have one or two tax chiefs,” he said. “But when people get pulled over, local law enforcement doesn’t ask to see their income tax returns.”

By 2065, more than one-third of the U.S. population will consist of foreign-born or immigrant families. Most already pay taxes, represent enormous spending power as consumers, bring new skills to the workforce, reinvigorate economies, and start businesses that employ native- and foreign-born workers alike, Gold said.

“We understand that the success and future prosperity and well-being of our nation is dependent on the success of our immigrant families,” she said.

Federal calls to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions run counter to that, as they threaten the health and economic well-being of the cities and counties they purport to help, Briseño said.

Phoenix has lately garnered the attention of tech companies looking for worldwide talent, and an immigration crackdown would close that avenue for economic development.

“Our goal is to create a welcoming and inclusive community,” Dohoney said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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