Arkansas lawmakers sent Gov. Asa Hutchinson legislation Wednesday cutting off funding to “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities over the Republican’s objections that the measure could open the door to racial profiling.
The House vote was 71-24 in favor of the measure, which would also prevent cities from blocking local law enforcement from asking about a person’s citizenship or immigration status. Any cities found to be in violation would be ineligible to receive discretionary funds administered by the state.
Hutchinson, a former federal Homeland Security official who oversaw border security efforts, had asked lawmakers to change the measure, but the bill’s sponsors rebuffed his request. Hutchinson has said he’s generally supportive of the bill, but hasn’t said what he would do if it reached him without that amendment.
The Arkansas Municipal League, which opposes the measure, said it doesn’t know of any cities in the state that have adopted sanctuary policies. Supporters of the bill, however, have said it’s needed as a preventive measure.
“This is not about racial profiling. This is about following the law,” House Majority Leader Marcus Richmond, who voted for the bill, said on the floor.
Several Republican states have enacted measures prohibiting sanctuary policies, which have also been targeted by President Donald Trump.
Opponents have said the proposal would open up the state and cities to lawsuits, and would damage law enforcement’s relationships with the immigrant community. Another opponent made a religious appeal to colleagues as she urged them to vote against the bill.
“We in this room are lawmakers and if we are lawmakers who claim Christ we can and should do the work of making just and fair laws that also embody the compassion of Christ and his command to welcome the stranger into our communities,” Democratic Rep. Megan Godfrey said.
Hutchinson had asked the bill’s sponsors to require probable cause before law enforcement asked about citizenship and immigration status and said that without the change there would be too much opportunity for racial profiling. The bill’s sponsors had said they believed there was sufficient protections in the measure against the profiling, but that changes could be made in future sessions if the bill is enacted.
Under the bill, the state’s attorney general would investigate complaints that a city had illegal sanctuary policies. If the city was found to be in violation, it would be ineligible for discretionary funds administered by the state. Opponents have also said that provision would give one official far too much power.
“The AG will become judge, jury and executioner for any municipality accused of violating the law,” Democratic Rep. David Whitaker said.
Hutchinson could sign the measure or allow it to become law without his signature, a move he and past governors have used to object to legislation without a veto. The Legislature can override his veto with a simple majority.