In recent years, the future for immigrants in the United States has become uncertain. The sanctuary city movement has grown in strength and numbers over the past few years with the goal of easing this anxiety.
As more cities endorse policies that protect its citizens from deportation, Flagstaff community members have introduced a resolution to Flagstaff City Council hoping they will support local families.
While the movement to make all cities a sanctuary for immigrants is growing, the term “sanctuary” has many definitions. Cities that take part in the sanctuary movement pledge to limit their cooperation with immigration officials as much as possible, while still recognizing the law.
Flagstaff community organizer Mara Pfeffer has her own definition.
“I know that there are sanctuary cities all over the world, but sanctuary city is defined differently,” said Pfeffer. “In the U.S. right now, usually sanctuary city refers to a city that has a law that protects immigrants from federal immigration enforcement in some way or refuses to allocate city funds towards enforcement of federal immigration law.”
Two Flagstaff organizations, Keep Flagstaff Together and Repeal Coalition Arizona, are working on related immigration issues. The members of Keep Flagstaff Together, a local organization offering free legal aid to those facing deportation, hope to pass a resolution, which would be an agreement between the public and city officials on the values within the resolution. The goal for immigration-justice organizers is to later pass a sanctuary city ordinance, called Frankie’s Law, created by Repeal Coalition Arizona. Repeal Coalition Arizona is a group dedicated to reversing anti-immigration laws in Arizona.
At a City Council meeting April 26, the Flagstaff community met to determine how much support there is to put the resolution on the agenda for the May 1 meeting. Also at the meeting, Frankie’s Law, was mentioned to keep larger goals in the minds of City Council members.
This kind of sanctuary movement is not a recent happening. The movement began in the southwest during the 1980s.
“It started in the `80s in response to a growing number of refugees from Central America who were fleeing state-sanctioned violence in their home countries,” Pfeffer said.
Frankie’s Law is named after Frankie Madrid. Madrid was a longterm Flagstaff resident and was very involved in the community. After he was deported from Flagstaff in August 2017, he took his own life. Frankie’s Law is meant to prevent something similar from happening again.
Frankie Madrid’s sister, Dulce Nereyda, was at the Flagstaff City Council meeting to talk about the importance of this movement and her brother’s legacy.
“My brother was a beloved member of this community. He lived here since he was 2 months old. Family was everything to my brother,” said Nereyda. “My brother committed suicide … because he wanted to come home. He wanted to be with his family. I will never have my brother back. We need to make sure that there will never be another Frankie.”
One of the participants in the ordinance is Frankie Beesley, a full-time field organizer with Puente Arizona, a human rights organization.
“Frankie’s Law, from Repeal, is an ordinance. It has more teeth. It is legally binding. [It is to] make the protection for all community members, no matter their documentation status. The resolution is the first step,” said Beesley.
A sanctuary city law might prevent the citizenship status of an individual from being used when determining qualification for city services. This practice was put in place in Arizona after SB1070 passed in 2010. A sanctuary city law may also prevent the police from demanding the citizenship status of suspected immigrants or involving United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll’s policies include endorsing hold-requests from ICE. The resolution will not necessarily make Sheriff Driscoll’s anti-immigration platforms illegal, but the ordinance would.
Frankie’s Law is meant to take the resolution a step further, in order to hold the city legally accountable.
“What we are trying to do as a community is [to say] no more hold requests from ICE, no more transfers into ICE custody,” Beesley said. “We are trying to sever the relationship between local and county police and city agencies with the federal immigration customs and enforcement.”
Keep Flagstaff Together organizers hope Frankie’s Law would add Flagstaff to the list of communities along the U.S.-Mexico border that are concerned about immigrant rights.
Faculty adviser for No Mas Muertes Bob Neustadt said that, despite there being no current legal obligation for Flagstaff law enforcement to work with ICE, they will follow orders.
No Mas Muertes, also known as No More Deaths, is an organization that helps prevent deaths of immigrants traveling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Neustadt is also an active volunteer for Keep Flagstaff Together.
“What Driscoll’s office is doing is holding these people longer than they need to be [based on local laws], and then ICE comes in and picks them up and takes them to a detention center and then they get deported,” Beesley said.
Flagstaff immigration justice supporters are also advocating against what they identify as a double-punishment system.
“If you are a citizen of the United States, you get a bail or you do your time,” Beesley said. “Undocumented people are having a second punishment system on them from immigration and customs enforcements. Not only are they being arrested or have to pay a fine and then ICE can come in, and that [second] punishment is potential deportation.”
While undocumented community members can apply for bail if arrested, gathering enough money in time can be challenging.
Identifying sanctuary cities is difficult because, in some cases, agreements are informal and include regional language and policies. For example, ojjpac.org identified Mesa, Arizona, as a sanctuary city based on its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. This policy meant that law enforcement can’t ask about citizenship status without criminal cause, and those talking to police don’t have to offer the information. However, Flagstaff immigration justice organizers believe Arizona does not currently have any sanctuary cities.
“Every state along the U.S.-Mexico border has at least one or two [sanctuary cities], except for Arizona now,” Pfeffer said.
Although some immigrant rights organizers support immigration justice, they believe the use of the word “sanctuary” can be harmful.
“I agree with all the tenets of the sanctuary movement, but Keep Flagstaff Together is strategically not using the term ‘sanctuary’ because the Trump administration and other right-wing ideologies react so negatively to that term,” said Neustadt. “To me, sanctuary is a very specific action: when an undocumented person goes into a church and decides not to leave that church in order to avoid deportation. To my knowledge, there are no churches in Flagstaff that are currently offering sanctuary.”
Neustadt said having the proper policies in place is vital to protect vulnerable groups of people. The sanctuary-city designation is less significant.
“For Keep Flagstaff Together, the important thing is to implement policies that protect the rights and experiences of the immigrant community,” Neustadt said. “From our perspective, using the word ‘sanctuary’ doesn’t matter. What matters is how we treat people.”
The movement to make cities more immigrant-friendly has gained momentum since President Donald Trump’s election. In Flagstaff, the sanctuary movement began with the Flagstaff Community Coalition.
Beesley said the Flagstaff Community Coalition was formed to understand the different threats to various community members and how human rights organizations can work to combat those threats.
“Things were happening nationally and we needed to come together as a community to do community defense and get a gauge of what is happening,” Beesley said.
Flagstaff community members decided it would be helpful to get involved in the sanctuary city movement, which is not always just for immigration justice. Community organizers are also trying to identify how immigration justice is connected to indigenous rights and police discrimination against people of color.
“Many undocumented people are indigenous people from Mexico and Central America. It’s very ironic, this whole question of who has the right to be here,” Neustadt said. “The people passing these laws on who has a right to be here are not indigenous people.”
Pfeffer thinks it is important to not only protect the immigrants in American society, but to protect the rights of those likely to face double punishment, threats and abuse.
“People who have been doing decolonial, feminist, anti-racist work have been advocating for sanctuary to mean not just that we protect good immigrants from the system, but that we challenge the criminalization of immigrants and people of color in this country,” Pfeffer said.
The sanctuary-city movement is building momentum in the U.S and in Flagstaff and confronts the abundance of issues faced by immigrants and the disadvantaged.