Jonesboro representative hopes to curtail ‘sanctuary’ college campuses in Arkansas

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 402 views 

District 58 State Representative Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, has introduced a bill to stop state funded colleges from becoming “sanctuary campuses” for undocumented students. If a college fails to comply, it could lose all of its state funding, Smith told Talk Business & Politics.

“My motivation was respect for the law, respect for the taxpayers, and respect for the parents who send their kids to college,” Smith said.

A few students on the Arkansas State University Jonesboro campus started a petition last fall to compel administrators at the school to turn the campus into a sanctuary campus, meaning the school would use resources to protect undocumented students and others that might face deportation if their status was revealed.

Sanctuary campuses are similar to sanctuary cities across the country that do not use resources to remove these people from those cities. Some campuses have enacted measures to protect students of certain religious backgrounds, such as Muslims, in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to deport millions of undocumented people and to stop immigrants from certain Muslim-leaning nations from entering the country.

HB 1042 has been sent to the Education Committee for review. No further action has been taken on the legislation. No other legislators had co-sponsored the bill as of this writing. Talk Business & Politics has learned only about 20 signatures have been collected during the petition drive on the ASU campus.

ASU President Chuck Welch said the bill will have a minimal impact on his university system if it passes.

“The primary nature of this legislation is to require colleges and universities to abide by, and cooperate with, all federal laws. Arkansas State University System campuses will abide by all state and federal laws and appropriately respond to federal officials if necessary as legally required,” Welch said. “We care for each of our students and will provide the best learning environment and educational experience possible for those students consistent with the law.”

The bill is not intended to start “witch hunts” on college campuses, Smith said. He doesn’t want college police officers roving the dorms, searching for potential violators, he said. Taxpayers shouldn’t have their dollars spent defying federal and state laws that are already in place, he said.

“I admire any undocumented worker who is in college and trying to make a better life for themselves and their families … we love you. We want to take care of you. Keep studying. Keep working hard.”

Incoming students have to meet certain documentation requirements, and if they meet those qualifications they are admitted as students, ASU vice-president for communications and economic development Jeff Hankins said. The campus has international students that have to meet certain criteria to maintain their visas to stay and study in the country, he said.

How many undocumented students might attend classes within the system isn’t known, Hankins said.

Smith has received several messages from constituents that support the bill, and a few negative comments from those who oppose it. He says his intention is to ensure that higher education administrators are required to follow state and federal laws, and the penalty – losing state funding – has to be severe for non-compliance, he said.

“It’s too much to risk,” he said.

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