With an immigration reform bill moving forward in the U.S. Senate, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas says procedural votes Tuesday were just the first step in what will be a closely watched process.
“If you look at the immigrant population in Arkansas, it’s about five percent and about 13 percent nationwide,” said Pryor. “However, we are one of the fastest growing states in terms of immigrant population. I think we’re fourth overall in the amount of growth we’re seeing in our immigrant population so this is an issue that’s becoming increasingly important to our state.”
Pryor says the bill will be debated and amended, but he says final legislation must secure the nation’s borders, strengthen systems that ensure the legal status of workers, and it should not provide a fast-track to citizenship.
Border security is also a top concern for Senator John Boozman.
“We simply have to secure the border. If you don’t, then we’re going to be in the same situation that we were in under President Reagan,” Boozman said. “[Back in the 1980s], the promise was that we would secure the border and hold employers accountable. At that time, 3 million people were given amnesty and now we’re anywhere from 11 million on up… we’re in the same situation.”
Boozman says there needs to be a solid visa program that supplies workers to the industries that need them and a possible review of how amnesty could impact the nation’s social welfare programs.
As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, Pryor wants to make sure any amendments to the bill are consistent with safety measures he’s supported in the past.
The senators report that immigrants make up about 13 percent of all manufacturing workers in Arkansas and they make up about half of the workers in the state's poultry and animal processing industry.