State House votes to block money to ‘sanctuary campuses’

Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. (Getty Images)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House of Representatives voted Tuesday to block state funds to colleges and universities that declare themselves so-called sanctuary campuses for immigrants in the country illegally.

House members voted 72-28 for the bill to authorize the attorney general to block state funds to colleges that do not follow state and federal immigration law. The measure now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Rep. Phil Williams, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged no Alabama college has announced intent to flout immigration laws but argued that one might do so in the future. He said the state should be proactive instead of waiting for that to happen.

“It’s designed to be an incentive to our university presidents to follow state and federal immigration law,” said Williams, R-Huntsville.

Democrats questioned the need for the bill, arguing that the state had more pressing problems.

“Do you see why the public thinks we are ridiculous? Why don’t we deal with Medicaid? Why don’t we deal with fully funding (children’s services)?” asked Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham.

“We have no business here at eight o’clock at night on a silly bill like this, no business at all,” said Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

Sanctuary campus is a loosely defined term embraced by students who want to protect immigrants on campus who are in the country illegally from deportation. Although some student protests on state campuses have criticized the president’s immigration views, the funding prohibition would apply only if school administrators openly defy immigration laws.

The bill titled “Americans First” was the first legislation passed by the House of Representatives this session. It was part of the House Republicans’ legislative agenda.

The vigorous debate signaled a rocky start to the 2017 session as Republicans, who hold a comfortable House majority, pushed agenda items and Democrats pushed back at what they described as largely meaningless nods to the GOP base.

The immigration legislation won approval after more than three hours of contentious partisan debate on another GOP agenda item: a resolution urging Congress to pass the agenda of President Donald Trump.