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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Gary Stubblefield makes an impassioned plea for his “sanctuary policies” bill Friday on the Senate floor, citing an influx of drugs and high-profile homicides involving migrants. More photos are available at - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Arkansas cities that offer protection to those skirting federal immigration authorities would face a loss of funding under a bill passed Friday by the state Senate.

No cities in the state have adopted "sanctuary policies," which interfere with federal enforcement of immigration law or prevent police from questioning people about their immigration status.

Senate Bill 411, by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would prohibit cities and municipalities from enacting such policies. The measure passed the majority Republican Senate in a 24-5 vote. The bill now heads for the House.

When contacted, J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the governor has not had a chance to review the legislation.

"He plans to do so over the weekend," Davis said.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Stubblefield made an impassioned plea from the Senate floor, telling fellow senators that there is an influx of illicit drugs at the border and that people in the country illegally are committing murder and causing fatal traffic accidents. .

The legislator noted a comment that the bill "is a solution looking for a problem," made Thursday in a legislative committee by Mireya Reith, executive director of Arkansas United, an immigrant advocacy group.

"Tell it to the family in Alabama, whose 12-year-old daughter was raped -- brutally raped -- just Tuesday of this week by a man who had previously been deported twice," Stubblefield said, referring to David Ramirez Gonzales, who is charged with first-degree rape in the March 10 assault of a 12-year-old girl in Marshall County, Ala. Gonzales had been deported twice between 2008 and 2009.

"That little girl will never be the same," Stubblefield said. "Does that sound like a solution looking for a problem?"

When President Donald Trump vetoed a measure in March that would have overturned his border-emergency declaration, one of the people present was Sabine Durden of Mineral Springs. Durden's son died on July 12, 2012, in an accident caused by a person who was in the country illegally.

SB411 defines a "sanctuary policy" as a formal or informal "order, ordinance, or law enforcement policy" that limits cooperation with federal agencies or officials or grants lawful presence within the municipality to people illegally in the U.S.

Under SB411, cities also are not allowed to prevent local law enforcement officials from asking about citizenship or immigration status nor to require federal immigration officials to obtain a warrant or demonstrate more than a probable cause before a suspect is taken into federal custody.

The Arkansas Municipal League has come out against the bill.

Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, asked Stubblefield how he would answer "when six of my mayors tell me they think you're taking away local control."

Stubblefield said the bill requires that the attorney general investigate and produce an opinion when an allegation is made that a city is offering sanctuary to someone unlawfully in the country.

"The attorney general's office will look into it and see if it's a valid complaint. If it's not, it will be dismissed," Stubblefield said.

If the city is found to be in violation, then it would be ineligible to receive state discretionary funds or grants.

SB411 would allow those cities found in violation of the law to appeal the decision to Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, questioned the constitutionality of giving the attorney general the power to declare a municipality in violation of the measure. He took issue with the proposal that records created by an investigation into municipal violations of SB411 would not be subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

"Whether you agree with the policy of the bill or not, the bill is drafted improperly, in my opinion, and against many of the things that I've heard from many of you throughout this session," Bond said.

Stubblefield said Arkansas is behind its neighboring states that have already passed laws protecting against illegal immigration. According to Pew Trusts, nine states -- including Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi -- enacted anti-sanctuary laws in 2018.

"Everyone in here, including our federal officials, would agree that our immigration system is broken. No question. Our laws are not being enforced and our citizens -- the very people that you and I will stand in this chamber to represent -- they're tired of it," Stubblefield said. "After 30 years of promises by both political parties, promises that have not been kept, people are getting weary."

A Section on 04/06/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas Senate backs measure to ban 'sanctuary' cities

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