Arkansas Sanctuary Campus Defunding Bill Shot Down From All Sides

Feb 8, 2017

Opponents of a bill to cut off funds to state universities with sanctuary campus policies filled the committee room, spilling out into the hallway.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public media

A bill that would defund sanctuary campuses – of which Arkansas has none – failed Tuesday in a legislative committee. In a voice vote, members shot down the bill by state Representative Brandt Smith of Jonesboro. Smith feared “rogue professors” would force Arkansas colleges to become safe havens for undocumented immigrants trying to escape federal immigration laws.

“This is directed at the radical fringe, anarchist types that want to change our campuses form those decent places where people go to get an education into what we saw over the news at U.C. Berkeley,” Smith said referring to a recent protest at one of the nation’s top colleges.

Smith said he doesn’t want undocumented students to be deported but instead to study and stay out of the “cross hairs” of politics.

Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro).
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public media

“Even the quiet little church mouse can get a degree if they’ll just eat their cheese quietly and go about their daily life,” said Smith.

In a line of questions, fellow Republican Representative Jana Della Rosa broke with Smith on the bill. She said Arkansas campuses have already pledged to follow federal immigration law.

“There are no sanctuary polices in place right now in Arkansas. Federal law prevents sanctuary policies form being put in place or they will lose their funding. It is also my understanding that the legislature currently, and will retain, the power to defund anything that we so choose to defund,” said the Rogers representative.

In a line of questions to Rep. Smith, Republican DeAnn Vaught of Horatio in southwest Arkansas, mirrored Rep. Della Rosa’s concern that there isn’t a need for such a law.

VAUGHT: Right now, already yin our state have they not already all signed that they would lose all monies if they allowed it to happen. My question is, did you know that they had already signed these?

SMITH: I knew this

VAUGHT: And that they would already lose all moneys if they participate in something such as a sanctuary school.

SMITH: I was aware of some of that.

Smith argued that universities could be pressured to change positions in the future. He listed five reasons for pushing the bill.

One – respect for the rule of law.

Two – respect for taxpayers.

Three – respect for the purpose of higher education.

Four – support for higher education administrators who fear such policies in the future.

Five – it would help protect against criminals being sheltered on campus.

The representative said he wanted to get ahead of a potential future problem. He used a similar line of logic from his bill to require Arkansas courts only use American laws – fearing Sharia law. Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) has suggested both of Smith’s bills seem to address a non-existent problem.

Smith did have some report in the House Education Committee. Rep. Mickey Gates (R-Hot Springs) said in this “day of confusion” it’s important to “establish and define” what the legislature wants out the state’s institutions. He referenced the idea of people who are transgender using bathrooms that match their gender identity as part of the confusing times he finds himself living in.

Several dozen opponents of the bill filled the committee room with the crowd overflowing into the hallway. Several testified against the bill.

Mireya Reith testifying against the bill.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Mireya Reith, the director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and state Board of Education member, warned that this is one of the only measures the Arkansas Legislature has considered that would “target immigrant communities.” She dismissed Smith’s concern that radical left professors were tricking students into protesting and petitioning for the right to an education, “we are not  puppets. She said, “we are democracy.”

Retired U.S. Army combat veteran Emanuel Alvarez, an immigrant, echoed Reith and took exemption to Smith’s earlier comment that undocumented students should act like “church mice.”

“We have protected speech under the First Amendment. Because all men are created equal, we are endowed by our creator as such,” said Alvarez, “you’re not going to sit here and say because you, or I consider you to be different, you no longer apply and I want you to be quiet and not state your mind.”

Alvarez said Rep. Smith had wasted his own and everyone else’s time on a mean spirited bill that didn’t address a real issue in the state.

Opponents of the sanctuary campus bill in the hallway outside of the committee room.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

After sitting and standing quietly for an hour, the bill was voted down, and opponents cheered. Smith said  he won’t try again.