FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Tucson and Flagstaff city councils voted Tuesday to sue Arizona over its tough new immigration law, citing concerns about enforcement costs and negative effects on the state's tourism industry.
They are the first municipalities in Arizona to approve legal challenges to the law. Earlier this week, proposed litigation in Phoenix took a hit when the city attorney said Mayor Phil Gordon lacks the authority to file suit without the support of the City Council.
The new state law requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they're in the country illegally.
The Flagstaff City Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that says it's an unfunded mandate to carry out the responsibilities of the federal government. Its Tuesday night meeting drew a crowd that initially numbered in the hundreds but dwindled significantly as the night wore on.
The council will retain legal counsel and could either pursue its own lawsuit or join Tuscon or other cities in efforts to fight the immigration bill.
It also is considering setting up a legal defense fund to which many in the audience said they would contribute.
"This new bill has the power to make a criminal out of me for helping my family and friends," said Flagstaff resident Loretta Velasco. "I will not turn my back on them, so whatever I can do, I will do."
The few who spoke in favor of the immigration measure urged the council to let someone else bear the cost of fighting it, and said the law had nothing to do with racial profiling.
Roger Boone said most people agree the immigration system is broken but a "race to the courts" is irresponsible.
"If Tucson is saying in a 5-1 vote it is filing, let them spend their money," he said.
Flagstaff is struggling with a $12.8 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, and city staff has been cut by 14 percent, including the loss of 13 police positions.
Mayor Sara Presler said she realizes each lawsuit Flagstaff faces for either enforcing or failing to enforce the immigration measure could cost the city in roads, police officers or staff. But she said it's better to be proactive than reactive.
Earlier Tuesday, the Tucson City Council approved a resolution to sue the state, with Councilman Steve Kozachik casting the lone no vote, The Arizona Daily Star newspaper reported.
Kozachik said he agrees the law is flawed but thinks Arizona needs to "de-escalate the conversation" and filing a lawsuit is not the way.
Other council members argued the cost to enforce the new immigration law will be overly excessive.
Mayor Bob Walkup said the law is based on a misguided notion that illegal immigrants are bad for the area's quality of life and economy. He said much of Tucson's economy is derived from Mexican tourists who come to vacation and shop, the Star reported.
In Phoenix, the mayor had said he would proceed with a legal challenge to the law after failing to gather enough support from the City Council. But a legal opinion issued Monday by Phoenix City Attorney Gary Verburg said only the City Council has the power to authorize lawsuits.
Four lawsuits challenging the law were filed last week by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, a Washington-based researcher who plans to visit Arizona and two police officers, one from Phoenix and the other from Tucson. The officers filed the lawsuit as individuals and weren't challenging the law on behalf of their employers.