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Talking back

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State Rep. Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro may not be a jewel of a legislator — the evidence that he falls short is strongly persuasive — but he has a talent for drawing worthy expressions from others.

Prominent in the Arkansas anti-immigrant movement, and aggressively ignorant, Hubbard likes to send admonitory communications to public officials — and maybe his own constituents, for all we know — chastising them for exhibitions of reason and tolerance. G. David Gearhart, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayettevile, heard from Hubbard after the UA announced that a public discussion of illegal immigration would be held on campus this month, and that it would include participation by illegal immigrants appearing at some risk to themselves. Hubbard demanded an explanation for what he apparently considered the university's unseemly involvement with education. "Please consider this as my official request that you explain both your own, and that of the University of Arkansas, roles in this specific, and most likely, 'illegal' activity," he wrote.

We tend to think of Gearhart primarily as a fund-raiser. But he's an educator too, and that side of him showed in his response. "One of a university's many purposes is to serve as a gathering place where issues and ideas are shared," Gearhart wrote. Some of the most vexing issues of immigration policy are those concerning young people who were brought to the USA as children, he said, and "I believe it's important to offer our students and the public an opportunity to hear firsthand from individuals who have such a unique perspective: living most of their lives as Americans, if not citizens, but without having the same legal, educational and economic opportunities as their classmates and neighbors." He invited Hubbard to attend.

In the legislative session earlier this year, Hubbard sponsored a bill to deny state services, including medical services, to anyone lacking a birth certificate. That elicited comment from the Rev. Wendell Griffen (a circuit judge on weekdays): "A religious or social ethic which seeks to justify denying help to immigrants is anti-holy. It does not come from the heart of God. It is not consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus. [Hubbard professes to be a Christian.] It may be politically popular to fear people who speak another language, come from other homelands, and are vulnerable in our communities on account of those realities and their economic and other hardships, but that isn't holy."

The bill died in committee.

A public university is and must be a part of the world around it. That world today includes the large problem of immigration, legal and otherwise. It also includes the problem of reckless politicians like Jon Hubbard, but that one is more easily soluble. The people of Jonesboro can solve it in November.

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