story by Roby Brock, with Talk Business, a content partner with The City Wire
A 68-32 vote on immigration reform was a display of bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, but it split Arkansas’ senatorial delegation.
The U.S. Senate voted to approve the immigration reform measure, S.744 – the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which still must clear a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted in favor of the bill, while U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., opposed it.
The legislation includes a 13-year pathway for 11 million undocumented immigrants to earn legal status. It also includes enhanced border security measures and increases the number of visas available for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs as well as visas for temporary agricultural workers.
“Today, the Senate reached across party lines to strengthen our nation by passing the strongest border security bill in history,” said Pryor. “Those who have been in the shadows for decades will be taking responsibility for their actions by paying owed taxes, fines, and penalties; contributing to Social Security; helping reduce our deficit; and strengthening our economy.”
Boozman disagreed, complaining that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) should have allowed more debate on potential amendments to the bill.
“There is no disputing that we need to address our nation’s porous borders, backlogged immigration system and lax enforcement of hiring practices. Unfortunately, the Senate’s ‘legalize now, enforce later’ approach is the wrong way to reform our broken system,” he said.
“This legislation fails to address the core problem of border security and does not provide the resources necessary for enforcement. This needs to be the cornerstone for reform. Instead of listening to the demands of the American people by focusing on securing the border, Majority Leader Reid offered immediate amnesty with a ‘promise’ of future security enhancements that will likely never happen,” he added. “Immigration reform is a serious subject. It deserves a serious debate. Instead, we are left with another instance of Washington’s rush to do something, instead of doing the right thing.”
The bill is all but dead in the U.S. House, however, although the chamber could take up its own version of immigration reform.
“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order.”
A number of Arkansas business, education, and civic interests issued statements of support for the Senate vote.
“Every state—including Arkansas—stands to benefit from comprehensive immigration reform,” said Randy Zook, President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. “Arkansas’s business and industry understand that immigration reform is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.”
Ivan Zapien, vice president for federal government relations with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said, “As the nation’s largest employer and a retailer that offers products and services to 140 million customers each week, we are committed to working with all interested parties – policy makers, employers, and consumers – to support this reform that is so desperately needed to our immigration system.We now encourage members of the House to continue the momentum so we can make comprehensive immigration reform a reality.”
“The Arkansas poultry and agriculture industries will benefit from this comprehensive immigration reform legislation with an improved guest worker program and stronger borders,” said Marvin Childers, President of the Poultry Federation. “We look forward to working with our congressional delegation in support of similar legislation.”
“As a mayor of a city that is a compassionate community that values diversity and has benefitted greatly from immigrants to our nation, I support sensible immigration reform to fix a broken system,” said Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan.
“At universities across the country we educate the best and brightest from around the world. Unfortunately, our current immigration system requires these students to then return to their home countries where they put their talents to work. We need immigration reform that allows these students to promote innovation here in the United States,” said Dr. Zulma Toro, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
A national group called Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which polled the issue in Arkansas, issued a statement calling passage of the bill a “betrayal.”
“We fully expect that this betrayal of the American public will be dead on arrival in the House. Thankfully, the House has made it clear that true immigration reform must protect the interests of the American people,” said Dan Stein, FAIR’s president.
“FAIR expects to work with members of the House to ensure that legislation coming out of that body provides a workable plan to secure our borders, enforce immigration laws in the interior of the country, and protect American jobs and tax dollars,” he added.