Arkansas immigration advocates held a press conference Wednesday (April 17) at Acambaro Mexican Restaurant in Springdale to respond to the Senate Gang of Eight immigration bill.
The Gang of Eight is composed of four Democrats and four Republican senators.
Studies indicate this immigration bill will apply to an estimated 24,000 immigrants living in Arkansas illegally.
It would grant citizenship after a 13-year process and provide for beefed-up border security as well as a fence on the southern border.
“The whole application process can’t be implemented until certain aspects of the border security have been implemented,” said Elizabeth Young, UA Professor of Law.
The bill provides a list of requirements to qualify for a temporary protective status. It states immigrants must learn English, civic history and can’t commit any serious crime.
Young adds, “They have to pay all of their back taxes, individuals will have to pay a fine of up to $2,000 and in addition have to pay the fees for the application.”
Congressman Steve Womack, R-AR, released a statement regarding this bill.
“Our current immigration system is broken, and Congress must address this growing problem. But the answer won’t come overnight,” Womack said.
“I have said all along that any solution must secure the border and encourage lawful behavior, and, in the coming weeks and months, I look forward to working with my colleagues and staff to evaluate the Gang of Eight’s plan and any other comprehensive reform package proposed,” Womack said.
Senator John Boozman, R-AR, also released a statement.
“It’s broken (immigration system) and must be fixed, but the idea that we should reward people who are violating the law with a shortcut to citizenship is not the right policy,” Boozman said.
Leonel Salazar faces deportation and was released Tuesday night from an ICE Detention Facility. He said he’s been in the U.S. since he was 11 years old and said he’s had a work permit since 1987.
However, Salazar said, he was placed in deportation proceedings after committing a misdemeanor in 2008. He said he provides for his family, his wife and four children, and wants to remain in the country.
“I have my own company and I’ve been contributing this country all my life,” Salazar said. “I’ve been paying taxes, I’ve been doing my social security, I’ve been doing everything, whatever it takes to do it right.”
If the bill becomes law, Young said, immigrants will have a lengthy process until they can attain citizenship.
“All of these things will be tested when they then attempt to become lawful permanent residents after that 10-year period and then they have to wait for three more years and then they can apply for citizenship,” Young said.
A Little Rock press conference is also tentatively being planned for Thursday (April 18) at 1 p.m. in the Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda, Little Rock AR.
This bill is set to go through Senate hearings on Friday and Monday.