The city manager and the police chief of Phoenix met with leaders of the ACLU and the organization’s anti-Trump grassroots activist group People Power before the Arizona capital become a sanctuary city for illegal aliens last month.
The Phoenix Police Department confirmed to WND the conclusion of the watchdog group Judicial Watch that records it obtained from the department document the influence of the ACLU and People Power on the relatively abrupt change in policy.
A police spokesman downplayed the importance of their role.
“Many community groups and individuals were consulted and provided perspective during the revision of our operations orders. This is common to ensure we are hearing the expectations of our community,” Sgt. Jonathan Howard wrote in an email reply to WND.
Asked in a follow-up whether or not ACLU and People Power were leaders in the effort, as they boasted in a tweet, Howard repeated his statement: “Many community groups and individuals were consulted and provided perspective during the revision of our operations orders.”
— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 4, 2017
Just weeks before the July 24 policy change, a closed-door session between Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Will Goana, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, took place, according to the records. The meeting was followed by sessions with People Power representatives.
The new policy bans officers from contacting federal immigration officials after arresting an illegal alien and forbids them from asking about suspects’ immigration status.
People Power was launched by the ACLU as a direct response to the “Trump administration’s attacks on civil liberties and civil rights” and “the growing number of people who believe that Trump’s actions cannot go unchallenged.”
It recruits local activists to pressure law enforcement and elected officials to commit to the following demands: “Not ask people about immigration status; Decline to engage in the enforcement of immigration law; Refuse to detain immigrants on behalf of the federal government unless there is a warrant signed by a judge.”
In February, the ACLU explained the rationale behind People Power: “In the weeks following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, we have seen the harms that his policies cause people around the world and the danger his actions represent for our civil liberties. Trump’s use of executive power has prompted the protest and defiance of millions, echoing the voices of many who know that our basic American values are being tested by our president.”
Judicial Watch points out the new order violates key provisions of a state law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing it leaves the city vulnerable to costly lawsuits.
The previous sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Joe Arapaio, was known nationally for his strict enforcement of federal immigration law. Arpaio – who was pardoned Friday by President Trump for his conviction in an Obama administration case accusing his department of racial profiling – was voted out last fall after serving 24 years as sheriff.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch noted the newly elected sheriff, Paul Penzone, was releasing hundreds of criminal illegal immigrants from county jail facilities to protect them from deportation.
Judicial Watch initially exposed the abrupt policy revision last month after obtaining a copy of the Phoenix Police Department’s new sanctuary immigration procedures.
The organization then filed a public records request to uncover the steps that led to the change.
Law enforcement sources told Judicial Watch in July that the revisions were crafted by a Hispanic advisory committee that promotes open borders with the backing of the ACLU.
The new records obtained by Judicial Watch show that People Power attempted to meet with Williams on April 19 to press for the policy change.
That meeting may not have taken place, but Goana, who also lobbies the Arizona legislature on civil liberties issues, met privately with the chief on May 9, according to the records.
People Power representatives then followed up with a June 9 meeting to discuss the Phoenix Police Department’s immigration policy changes with Chief Williams, the records show.
The meeting was about one week after Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher met with People Power, describing it afterward as “one of the most reasonable groups I’ve talked with.”
On June 29, Williams met again with ACLU and People Power regarding the changes to the immigration policy.
Judicial Watch observed: “Thanks in large part to the group’s efforts, the 3,000 officers in the Phoenix Police Department have been stripped of discretion from addressing the crime of illegal immigration or using sound judgement when it involves suspects thought to be in the U.S. illegally.”
No other federal crime in department policy has those restrictions, Judicial Watch pointed out. Officers continue to have the discretion to contact the FBI; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Postal Inspectors; U.S. Marshals; and Drug Enforcement Agency without fear of violating department policy.
Judicial Watch argued that allowing officers to use their discretion when dealing with criminal aliens has been an effective tool in curbing crime.
In 2008, former Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris revealed that a 24 percent decrease in homicides and a 26 percent decrease in auto thefts could be partly attributed to “a new immigration policy that allows our officers to use their discretion when dealing with criminal aliens” and “unprecedented cooperation between our investigative units and our state, federal, and local partners,” including the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.