LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers rejected a proposal Tuesday to block funding to colleges and universities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a stance that differs with other Republican states targeting campuses and cities offering sanctuary to immigrants in the country illegally.
The House Education Committee rejected the proposal by voice vote. It would have required public higher education institutions to certify annually that they don't have any "sanctuary" policies in place. Republican Rep. Brandt Smith, who proposed the measure, said he didn't expect to bring it back up during this year's session.
None of Arkansas' campuses have adopted any policies refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities, but Smith said the bill was needed to discourage any efforts to do so. Arkansas State University, which is in Smith's district, last week rebuffed a petition requesting the school declare itself a sanctuary campus.
"We need to help our administrators, our presidents of these colleges and universities as well as our chancellors, so they can actually push back and say we will not be encouraged to break federal laws," Smith told the panel.
The issue of sanctuary cities and campuses has taken on national importance following a series of immigration measures from President Donald Trump.
It comes as advocates are concerned about the future of a program created under former President Barack Obama that allows young people brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.
Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would eliminate it but has since said his administration "will work something out" and hasn't taken any action against the program during his first days in office.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former federal Homeland Security official who oversaw border security efforts, told reporters earlier Tuesday that he was concerned about the impact Smith's bill would have on some college students.
"They're paying tuition, out-of-state tuition I believe, and they are getting their education and while they are doing that we don't want to create a climate of fear for them," Hutchinson said.
The bill also faced skepticism from Republican lawmakers who noted that they already have the authority to block funding for schools through the regular budget process.
"Why should I pass a bill to grant myself a power I already have to fix a problem that does not exist?" Republican Rep. Jana Della Rosa asked.
Opponents of the bill who had filled the committee room and the hallway cheered when the panel rejected Smith's proposal. The head of an immigrant advocacy group said she was worried it would have led to profiling of some students.
"There's no denying this targets our immigrant community here in Arkansas," Mireya Reith, executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, told the committee.
Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield said he's still pushing for a separate measure cutting off state funding for cities that adopt sanctuary policies for immigrants in the country illegally, despite the failure of Smith's proposal. Stubblefield's bill is pending before a Senate committee.
"This is more or less a pre-emptive thing, to ward it off ahead of time," Stubblefield said.
Associated Press Writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report
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