PINE BLUFF, Ark. — A controversial plan to protect illegal immigrants in Pine Bluff is off the table – for now.
Alderman Steven Mays withdrew his so-called “safe city” resolution before Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting. “I was asked, and I’ve done it,” Mays said afterward. “I don’t have any regrets. I love Pine Bluff, and whatever makes Pine Bluff be restored and renewed, I’m all for it.”
Despite the fact that a vote would not take place, residents who had signed up to speak about the resolution were still allowed to share their thoughts. Two did, and both said they hoped it would not see the light of day.
“I recommend the council consider the citizens and not illegal aliens,” one man said, “and ‘we the people’ voted you into office to serve ‘we the people,’ not illegal aliens.”
The text of the resolution included a section saying that residents of Pine Bluff should not fear deportation if the only thing they have done wrong was to enter the country illegally. Rev. Jesse Turner argued Mays was attempting to fix a problem that did not exist. “I have not read or seen where the Pine Bluff Police Department has ‘ripped’ from their homes residents, returning them to a ‘hostile and potentially deadly environment,’” he said.
The resolution stated that police officers would not check someone’s immigration status unless required by state law because local resources are best used “for matters expressly reserved for municipal governments by Arkansas law.” The resolution also stated that the city would not deny services to undocumented immigrants unless state law demanded it.
“It is irrelevant to the safety of Pine Bluff citizens,” Turner argued. “This is an attempt to back-door Pine Bluff with a sanctuary city piece of legislation that carries with it, sometimes, grave implications related to federal funds.”
The resolution also said that citizenship would not eliminate any candidate for employment with the city unless it was essential to the job.
“As a business owner,” the first speaker explained, “by law, I have to check and ensure that every person I hire is a legal resident of the United States, or I could go to jail or pay a large fine. Why should the city even consider hiring someone that, by law, would make the city a lawbreaker?”
Mays said he wrote what he called the “Secure and Friendly Environs (SAFE) City” resolution to encourage immigrants to move to Pine Bluff, to help make up for all the people who have moved away over the past few decades.
“I called it a safe city. And Pine Bluff is a safe city,” Mays stated. “We carry a bad name sometimes, but, actually, Pine Bluff is a great city.”
Mays said Pine Bluff has lost a large number of residents to White Hall and thought Pine Bluff would need to attract as many as 10,000 new residents to right its economy.
Mays said he might bring the resolution back in the future, but he wants more input before making a decision.
“It’s always two sides to every story,” he mentioned, “and I listened to each side of the story. And I decided to just pull it. This is the season of unity and giving, so I decided: just pull it.
“Whatever I can do to make [Pine Bluff] work, to make it grow, to make it move, I’m all for it.”