Council votes to sue over new immigration law

2010-05-05T05:30:00Z Council votes to sue over new immigration lawJOE FERGUSON Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
May 05, 2010 5:30 am  • 

The Flagstaff City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to file suit against Arizona's new immigration law.

The decision, made after more than three hours of public testimony, directs the city attorney to seek an injunction, either alone or in concert with other cities or litigants, preventing SB1070 from taking effect in late July.

Councilmember Coral Evans called the law "racist" and said she could not abide by a law that would target some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the community.

"It is not enough to stand in unity when things are good," Evans said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr.

Councilmember Joe Haughey, while voting in favor of the lawsuit, said the city must monitor its legal bills in the face of a $6 million budget deficit and employee layoffs.

"I'm concerned about budget issues," he said. "We've eliminated 13 police positions. How many more are we going to lose because we cannot afford it?"

No estimate was made Tuesday of how much the city might spend on fighting the state over the new law, although the city also set up a fund on Tuesday to accept public donations.

More than two dozen spoke to the council during the meeting, with more than 80 percent in favor of overturning the legislation.

The council agreed that there was a greater cost than possible legal fees -- a human cost.

Mayor Sara Presler said the city might be saving money by suing the state -- the city, she noted, could be legally liable for implementing the new law.

The council was given essentially four options on Tuesday night: Proceed with their own lawsuit against the state, join other cities or groups in pre-existing legal action, wait to see how the federal government responds or do nothing.

The adopted resolution will give City Attorney Pat Boomsma two choices: Hiring an outside legal firm to fight the law or join with another community like Tucson to sue the state.

The Tucson City Council voted 5 to 1 on Tuesday night to sue the state to overturn SB 1070.

In Phoenix, Mayor Phil Gordon said he and other Arizona mayors plan to file a challenge to the state's new immigration law.

Gordon was unable last week to gather enough support from Phoenix City Council members to file a lawsuit on behalf of the city, and a legal opinion issued Monday by Phoenix City Attorney Gary Verburg says only the city council has the power to authorize lawsuits.

He says the challenge to be filed by a coalition of municipalities in Arizona wouldn't be funded by Phoenix's taxpayer money.

Flagstaff Councilmember Scott Overton said the city might want to go it alone out of concern that other lawsuits might fail to get off the ground.

The law, set to take effect July 29, would make it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally.

It would require local law enforcement, when "practical," to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are here unlawfully.

The governor amended the law last week to preclude a person's race from being a factor when questioning someone's legal status amended the measure last week.

The law was also amended so police could inquire about immigration status only if there is a lawful stop, detention or arrest, not just a contact.

A spokesperson for the Flagstaff Police Department, Lt. Ken Koch, said arrests in Flagstaff involving illegal immigrants are not substantial.

"It has been our experience that those individuals that we come into contact within the course of our duties who are determined to be in this country illegally are law-abiding persons and non-violent," Koch said. "There is a small minority within that group that have come to our attention that are involved with narcotic trafficking and sales and they do engage in violent criminal acts in support of narcotic trafficking and sales. We would like to stress these are a minority."

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