Last week, I reported on legislation that proposes to strip state funding from cities in Arkansas with “sanctuary” policies, meaning those that demonstrate tolerance towards the presence of undocumented immigrants.
Now, there’s a bill that would do the same for colleges and universities.
HB 1042, filed yesterday by state Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro), contains substantially the same language as the earlier bill targeting municipalities (which was filed by Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch). Smith’s bill would render any state-supported institution of higher education ineligible for state funding if it adopts a “sanctuary policy … whether formally enacted or informally adopted.” The attorney general would be responsible for enforcement.
Much of the language concerns the compliance of law enforcement and campus security officers with federal immigration authorities. But the plain language of HB 1042 suggests it could be more broadly interpreted, as the definition includes any formal or informal policy that “grants to illegal immigrants the right to lawful presence or status on the campus of the state-supported institution of higher education in violation of federal law.”
There are many undocumented students who graduated from Arkansas high schools and are now attending Arkansas colleges and universities around the state. When I reached Rep. Smith by phone this morning, I asked whether the bill would target those students.
“If they’re here illegally, and they’re not on proper visas, they need to step back in line and get with immigration and customs,” he said. “For illegals that are here as undocumented, there is a process and a procedure for those individuals and they just need to do things the right way.”
Smith said his bill was in response to a story he read in the Jonesboro Sun about a group at Arkansas State University petitioning ASU to declare itself a “sanctuary campus.” The day the article ran, he said, “my phone started ringing at 7 a.m. from constituents that were kind of outraged that this would be something that would be taking place on our campus up there.” He said he’d been later assured by ASU lobbyist Shane Broadway that “that’s not going to happen at ASU” but said his bill was still needed “in the event that these petitions get traction.”
Smith framed the bill as a means for administrators to resist student and faculty urging a policy change: “It’ll give our administrators and our schools a little bit of teeth to push back when these activists actually want to do something that breaks federal law.” However, HB 1042 gives no additional authority or leverage to administrators; it only specifies harsh penalties for noncompliance.
Smith said he has not read the petition that motivated his legislation. “I’m really not clear on what all their demands are,” he said. Courtesy of the Jonesboro Sun, here’s a copy of the petition circulating on Facebook. Two dozen ASU faculty, staff and administrators have added their names, as well as dozens of students.
Smith indicated he’s mostly concerned about the idea of Arkansas campuses harboring criminals. “When we say ‘sanctuary campus,’ my mind thinks, ‘Well, what if we have an individual who wants sanctuary on one of our campuses and maybe he has criminal intent. Is the school going to provide housing and room and board?'”
Nothing in the petition indicates ASU would provide housing or anything else to such an individual. It does ask that the campus administration “refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations or raids,” but the focus appears to be on ASU students. I asked Smith about students who are not here in the U.S. legally but were brought over the border as children, grew up in Arkansas, graduated from Arkansas high schools, and are now attending ASU, yet don’t have any papers. Should those people be turned over to federal authorities for deportation?
“Well, you know, that’s where it gets really challenging and really difficult,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be heartless about this, but there is a process. Some of these children had no choice. They were brought along with their families. But they need to make a very quick move to get legal before someone or some law forces them out. I think what we’re going to do — my bill, if it’s passed into law, could jeopardize their future, and I’m just saying let’s start doing things right.”
However, there is no way for such students to “get legal” if they do not have paperwork. There exists no pathway to legal status for immigrants who are here illegally.
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” Smith replied. “I’ve lived overseas for 20-plus years, and I know, as an ex-pat living in a foreign country, in some places I’ve lived, I’ve had to go through multiple hoops to get an entry visa, to get residency status. … So there are processes and procedures in place, and laws have not been enforced, and I think what we need to do is back up and say ‘it’s time we enforce the rule of law.’ And there will be some pain involved, but without having a system that’s based on the rule of law, what we’re going to create is the potential for more chaos, and we want to avoid that.”
Again, there exists no process for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status, short of leaving the U.S. and applying for reentry. Asked whether students who grew up in Arkansas should leave the country in order to seek lawful status, Smith replied, “I’m not suggesting — they may have to leave the country. I’m not suggesting that. I think this is where we begin a conversation even within our own state, because there is an ongoing conversation nationwide at the federal level. But those conversations begin at the state level. … It’s not popular, I realize that, but we’re either a nation of laws or we’re not,” he said.
I pointed out that Smith said he introduced the bill because of phone calls from constituents, and it therefore sounded as if it was popular in his district. “Well, you’re talking about 30,00 constituents [in his House district], and I got seven to a dozen phone calls,” he replied. “If it gets traction in the House and moves to the Senate, then we’ll know how broad in scope this potential is across our state. I’m just floating it out there to see what my colleagues in the House think, and if it doesn’t get through committee, at least we made an attempt.”
Does the presence of undocumented students on college campuses hurt Arkansans, or the state? “I don’t know that they’re hurting the state of Arkansas, but we know that there are other communities around the United States that are considered sanctuary cities, where repeat entries into the United States have ended poorly for some of those with criminal intent,” he said.”We need to … protect our student bodies from the potential of unintended consequences — it’s just time we took a good hard look at this in the state of Arkansas.”