A bill that would defund Arkansas universities, were they to shelter undocumented immigrant students from federal law enforcement in the course of a criminal investigation, failed on a voice vote before the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.
There are no “sanctuary campuses” in Arkansas, but state Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) says his bill would make sure it stays that way.
“The primary purpose for the bill is respect for rule of law, respect to the Arkansas taxpayers, and respect for the intended purposes of higher education in the state.”
A “sanctuary campus” is a school that attempts to withhold undocumented immigrant students’ information from federal law enforcement.
Governor Asa Hutchinson , who has a naturalized Latina daughter-in-law, says he’s reluctant to support legislation that would strengthen police scrutiny of immigrants’ children on state university campuses.
“To be in a climate of potential confrontation of campus police that’s going to be knocking on a door and asking for your citizenship papers, I think that’s something we’re going to have to look at very closely.”
A separate bill has been filed to defund “sanctuary cities.”
Angelina Lublin is originally from Argentina and lives in North Little Rock. She joined a protest at the Capitol last week because, she says, "It’s going to take away our rights. I know if you’re not an American you don’t have American rights, but we have rights as humans and it’s going to take away our sense of tranquility. We don’t have much, but we want a better future."
Emmanuel Alvarez, a retired U.S. army infantry staff sergeant, also protested outside a committee room.
He said it’s going to "paint a target" on immigrant students, even those who were born in the U.S.
"Just because they look Hispanic, they’re going to be harassed in the classroom," he said.
But Smith says his bill’s intent is being misconstrued.
“It really protects dreamers and undocumented students. Because I’ve told them, I’ve met with all these activist groups. ‘Please don’t put your picture in the paper. Don’t get your name out there. Keep going to class and taking your courses and graduate and go be successful.’”
Smith says he’s still working on aspects of his bill that would hold faculty responsible for setting up what he calls “sanctuary classrooms” — smaller corners of the campus meant to shield students from law enforcement.
“If a faculty member does this, my question to that faculty member is, ‘Are you willing to feed and house?' And if you don’t have a restroom in your office, 'Are you going to carry out a waste basket every day?'”
Arkansas Public Media will follow up next week with a look into the extent of Arkansas universities' legal capacity to protect undocumented immigrants from federal law enforcement, and whether any are doing so.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State News with Context.