LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas legislative panel approved a proposal Thursday to cut off funding to cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities or that prevent law enforcement from asking people if they’re in the country illegally, even though no cities in the state have adopted such “sanctuary” policies.
The Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committee endorsed the legislation to dissuade communities from becoming so-called sanctuary cities, sending it to the full Republican-led Senate for a vote. The proposal would make a city ineligible for discretionary funds administered by the state if the attorney general determines it is a sanctuary city. The state senator behind the measure said the penalty is needed to ensure that Arkansas cities comply with federal law.
“If we’re not going to enforce the laws we make and we’re not going to enforce the federal laws that are on the books, why don’t we just do away with those laws?” Republican Rep. Gary Stubblefield, who proposed the ban, told the panel before its vote.
The Arkansas Municipal League, which opposes the measure, said it’s not aware of any cities in the state that have adopted sanctuary status or plan to do so.
Arkansas is among several states where Republican lawmakers have pushed for bans on sanctuary cities in recent years. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, vetoed similar legislation last month. Florida lawmakers are also considering a similar bill.
Immigrant advocacy groups said the ban is unnecessary and could sow mistrust between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
“This is a solution looking for a problem, and not a problem that currently exists in Arkansas,” said Mireya Reith, the founding executive director of one such group, Arkansas United.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former Department of Homeland Security official who oversaw border security efforts, said the governor was reviewing the measure. Hutchinson two years ago spoke out against a similar measure aimed at public colleges and universities with sanctuary policies. That proposal failed before a House committee.
Thursday’s vote came as measures benefiting some immigrants have won support in the Arkansas Legislature. Lawmakers are nearing final action on a measure that would allow colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition rates to certain immigrants. That proposal would apply to immigrants who were brought here illegally as children and allowed to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented during former President Barack Obama’s administration.