ASA HUTCHINSON: The governor praises the president on immigration (file photo). BRIAN CHILSON

Governor Hutchinson spoke with reporters at a forum hosted by the Associated Press and the Arkansas Press Association on Friday morning in advance of the 2019 regular session, which begins on Monday. Though the main focus of the meeting was on state politics, the governor also answered several questions about the effects of the ongoing federal government shutdown, now in its 20th day.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22, when President Trump failed to extract a budget deal from congressional leaders that included billions of dollars in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.


Hutchinson said he hoped the standoff would soon be resolved. He expressed concern for both those federal workers going without pay and a handful of state workers who have been furloughed because their salaries are paid with federal funds. But, he also said President Trump’s efforts to increase “the knowledge level … of the American public” around border security issues has had “a very positive impact” on the country.

Hutchinson said six employees of the Arkansas State Crime Lab that perform DNA analysis were initially furloughed for “a couple of days” but are now back at work. “The only state employees that have been furloughed at this point are 10 employees at the Department of Finance and Administration that have some management responsibilities for federal funds. So that’s a hardship for those 10 families,” the governor said.


Meanwhile, some federal Department of Homeland Security employees based in Arkansas, such as TSA workers and immigration officials, are working but not getting paid, Hutchinson acknowledged. “This is really difficult for security,” he said. “I know how that department works, and it’s a real hardship.” Hutchinson served as an undersecretary of the Homeland Security department in the George W. Bush administration.

“Not just for how it impacts Arkansas but for our nation, I hope this shutdown ends quickly,” he said. Hutchinson said that declaring a national emergency to secure border wall funding, as Trump has threatened to do in recent days, should “be looked at only as a last resort.” The state is now looking at contingency plans for ways to “shore up” federally funded programs that have halted operations or may do so in the coming weeks, should the shutdown continue to drag on.


However, Hutchinson also took the opportunity to praise the president’s approach to the border.

“I do believe the president has done an amazing job and an important job in educating Americans about the need, and the humanitarian crisis, and the need for enhanced border security,” he said. “We preached that message in 2003 when I was at Homeland Security, but what the president has done is raise that knowledge level and interest of the American public to a much higher level, so that’s been a very positive impact.

President Trump has repeatedly exaggerated the threat that undocumented immigrants pose to Americans, falsely implying that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime in this country. In his televised address to the nation on Tuesday night, Trump said that “thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.” The president has also repeatedly made false claims that the situation is an accelerating crisis, when in fact border apprehensions have fallen sharply since 2000.

In the past, Hutchinson has opposed state-level legislation that targeted undocumented immigrants, such as a 2017 bill sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) that would have withheld funding from colleges deemed “sanctuary campuses.”


Asked Friday whether the president’s claims about the threat posed by undocumented immigrants were appropriate and accurate, Hutchinson focused only on the portion of Trump’s comments that described the suffering of migrants themselves.

“The humanitarian crisis is what he’s drawn attention to, and he’s been very specific about it,” Hutchinson said. The governor said the president wants to change the “Flores decision,” a court ruling that restricts the federal government’s ability to handle children apprehended at the border. The White House says such policies have played into the hands of smugglers who prey on migrants.

“[Trump] focuses on the security side and some of the harm aspects of it, but it’s a human tragedy that we have children that are being brought into the United States under misinformation and under inappropriate policies that have been adopted. So he’s drawn attention to things that need to be changed and he’s been very specific about it,” the governor said.

In his national address, Trump did frame the issue as a humanitarian crisis, saying migrant children were used as “human pawns” and declaring that “women and children are the biggest victims of our broken system.” But he devoted far more time to telling Americans that they and their families are under imminent threat from those who cross the border illegally. From the president’s Tuesday address:

Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl. Over the last several years, I have met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices and the sadness gripping their souls. How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?