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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this April 10, 2019 file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo, File)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that he wants to clear up confusion in northeast Arkansas about whether he signed legislation to prohibit the state's cities from adopting "sanctuary policies" that protect people who are in the country illegally.

"I've had 150 calls into my office just this morning, I believe, it is confused on the issue of sanctuary cities," the Republican governor told about 800 people attending a luncheon at the Arkansas Municipal League's winter conference in Little Rock.

"I just want to make sure that it is known that when [Senate Bill 411] came to my desk as a prohibition on sanctuary cities in Arkansas, I signed that bill [last April]," Hutchinson said. Act 1076 of 2019 allows the state to withhold funding from any cities that enact written or unwritten "sanctuary" policies.

He said he believes "it is the right thing to do" because he served as an undersecretary in the federal Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, and he believes "that when you are in law enforcement you need to cooperate with federal authorities.

"And I have no doubt that the cities in this room understand the importance of diversity, the importance of legal immigration and growth, but at the same time we want to make sure that we are fully cooperating in terms of our responsibility to the federal authorities and that sanctuary cities is not something we are having in Arkansas," Hutchinson said in remarks that drew applause from the audience.

Asked afterward what triggered his remarks, the governor said it was appropriate for him to speak to the Arkansas Municipal League to reiterate what the law requires.

"But it was also timely because I think there are some of the supporters of the race up in the Jonesboro area, some of the supporters of Rep. Dan Sullivan I think have circulated that and caused ... a hundred and some calls [to] come into the [governor's] office, so it was a good time to reiterate that for that purpose too," Hutchinson said.

In the March 3 Republican primary election Sullivan is challenging Sen. John Cooper in Senate District 21, which covers most of Craighead County, including Jonesboro. The race is a rematch of a November 2013 special primary runoff that Cooper won by 67 votes. Hutchinson has endorsed Cooper in this year's race.

According to the General Assembly's website, Sullivan and Cooper voted for SB411 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch.

Sullivan said in a telephone interview, "I didn't know anyone called his office. That's the first I have heard of it." He added, "I don't know what else to say."

Cooper said in a telephone interview that he's been asked by a person if he voted for a bill to make Arkansas a sanctuary state and to give free housing to people who are in the country illegally and he told that individual that "they were mixed up about what they were asking about."

He said he thought the person was asking about legislation that extended in-state tuition to some legal immigrants, which he voted for.

The confusion may stem from an issue pertaining to refugees. In December, Arkansas became one of now 42 states that have agreed to continue accepting refugees, according to The Associated Press. In January, Hutchinson said the state agreed to accept about 50 refugees, about the same number that flowed into the state last year. The program will be re-evaluated at the end of the year, Hutchinson said, and he will determine then whether it should continue.

In April, the governor said he agreed to sign the bill to prohibit cities from adopting "sanctuary" policies after Stubblefield agreed to amend the law in a future legislative session.

The agreement would add a requirement for "probable cause" to a provision of the bill that allows law enforcement authorities to stop people and question them about their citizenship or immigration status, the governor said at that time.

Metro on 02/14/2020

Print Headline: Governor seeks to clarify stance on sanctuary bill

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