Arkansas lawmakers revive anti-'sanctuary cities' measure

Arkansas lawmakers have revived a proposal to cut off funding to "sanctuary cities" that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities despite concerns from the state's Republican governor

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas lawmakers revived a proposal Tuesday to cut off funding to "sanctuary cities" that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities despite concerns from the state's Republican governor that the current measure could open the door to racial profiling.

The House City, County and Local Affairs Committee approved by a 14-5 vote the Senate-backed measure, which also prohibits cities from preventing local law enforcement from asking about a person's citizenship or immigration status. The bill, which failed before the same panel a day earlier and appeared dead for this year's session, now heads to the majority-Republican House for a vote.

The Arkansas Municipal League, which opposes the measure, said it doesn't know of any sanctuary cities in Arkansas and lawmakers behind the bill have said it's an effort to prevent them in the state. Republicans in several other states have enacted similar measures targeting sanctuary cities, which have also been targeted by President Donald Trump.

"Maybe somebody in Washington, D.C., will watch and see what we're doing and say, 'if we don't fix these problems, the states are going to have to do it,'" Republican Rep. Brandt Smith told the panel before the vote.

An opponent of the bill, however, said it would do more harm than good.

"This is not a bill that will spur dialogue at the federal level. This is a bill that will create a chilling effect among populations," Democratic Rep. Fredrick Love said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he's generally supportive of the bill, but asked the lawmakers behind the measure to require probable cause before law enforcement could ask about citizenship or immigration status. Hutchinson said Monday without the change, there was "too much opportunity for racial profiling."

The bill's sponsor said he wouldn't amend the bill, saying he believed it had sufficient protections and that amending the measure would effectively kill it since the session was set to end Wednesday. Smith said lawmakers could make further changes in future sessions if needed.

Hutchinson on Tuesday declined to say what he'd do if the bill as written reaches his desk.

Advocacy groups have said the legislation could damage relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and warned the bill could open the state and cities to lawsuits.

"This is a bad bill. It's not just about sanctuary," Mireya Reith, founding executive director of Arkansas United, an immigrant advocacy group, told reporters after the vote. "This is a broad bill that exposes our state and our municipalities to lawsuits, and it hurts the image of the state of Arkansas."

The bill gives the attorney general authority to investigate any complaints that a city is violating the sanctuary city ban. If a city is found to be violating the ban, it would be ineligible to receive any discretionary funds administered by the state.

The final vote on the bill comes at the end of the session where the majority-Republican Legislature has approved other measures cheered by the immigrant community. They include a bill sent to Hutchinson that would allow public colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition rates to certain students who had been paying higher out-of-state rates. It includes migrants from a program implemented during former President Barack Obama's administration that allows young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to stay in the U.S.


Associated Press Writer Hannah Grabenstein contributed to this report


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