A-State responds to sanctuary campus petition

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas State University must strike a balance between the support of students as well as follow both state and federal law dealing with immigration, according to a letter sent by university officials Thursday.

A letter, which was obtained by Region 8 News through a Freedom of Information request, was sent to English and Philosophy professor Dr. Michelle Merritt from system President Dr. Charles Welch and ASU-Jonesboro chancellor Dr. Doug Whitlock, due to House Bill 1042. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro would prohibit so-called "Sanctuary Policies" at colleges and universities in the state.

Merritt helped to create a petition and sent a letter to university officials in opposition to the bill.

In the letter, university officials said there were several different ideas at work on the issue.

"Arkansas State is an institution where individuals of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and philosophies come together to learn, teach, research and serve. We are a stronger institution because of this diversity," the letter read. "However, we must consider the entire campus community and the needs of all of our campus community members when we make significant policy decisions. This delicate balance must be foremost in our minds during this particular situation. We want to be very clear that we support the right of all of our students to attend this university and have the opportunity to earn an education."

University officials said they have worked in recent days on a plan to help international students from seven nations impacted by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump. However, officials said the university must support federal and state law on the issue.

"We also strongly support all students' privacy rights," the letter noted. "However, we cannot take actions that are inconsistent with federal or state law. Taking those actions could put the institution at risk, which would in turn place the well-being of our students and employees at risk."

According to the letter, opponents to the bill asked the university to take "multiple actions" as a university including declaring the university as a "sanctuary campus", guaranteeing student privacy, creating an undocumented student program with a full-time director and free on-campus access to legal counsel for people impacted by the issue.

"Failure to comply with federal or state law could jeopardize the financial and legal liability of the university and negatively impact the education of thousands of students and the well-being of our employees. We simply cannot take that risk," both Welch and Whitlock wrote.

As for the undocumented student program, university officials said the "university does not have legal authority to use public funds to provide private legal services for our students."

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