Impact of Immigration Law Could Be Felt in Arkansas

MARCH 30, 2006 - Posted at 7:54 a.m. CST

HOT SPRINGS, AR - Jorge Garcia immigrated from Cuba as a child and now works for an investment company in Hot Springs.  Garcia's convinced the decisions Congress makes on immigration law in coming weeks will have a tremendous impact on the country.

In Arkansas, federal legislative changes could affect the lives of thousands of illegal immigrants.

Garcia, who is running for justice of the peace in Garland County and is a leader in the state's Hispanic Democratic Caucus, said he wants to see a way for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country to gain legal status.

A Senate committee has approved border security and other measures that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to gain legal status.  A rival bill would increase sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and make it a misdemeanor for an immigrant to be in the country illegally.

Any bill that passes the Senate would have to be reconciled with a House bill that would make illegal presence in the country a felony.

The Pew Hispanic Center says about 40,000 illegal immigrants lived in Arkansas in 2004.  The center estimates that 55 to 60 percent of foreign-born people in Arkansas are in the state illegally.  The national rate is about 27 percent.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)