Debate Over Immigrant Amnesty Reaches Into Arkansas

April 9, 2006 - Posted at 2:25 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Eduardo Martinez was a laborer on a peach

farm in Texas when the offer came. An American he worked with

approached him and some of his fellow employees.

He asked them is they wanted to get their papers, Martinez

recalls. It was the 1980s, and an amnesty was in effect for

immigrants like Martinez who had entered the country illegally.

Martinez is one of millions who received legal status under a

1986 law. He now owns three businesses in Little Rock, sends his

children to private schools and has taken up golf. He's also a U.S.


Members of Arkansas' small but growing Hispanic population are

calling for Congress to create another legalization program like

the one that helped Martinez.

Demonstrations calling for looser immigration laws have taken

place recently in Fort Smith and Springdale. Spanish-language radio

announcers in central Arkansas are promoting another rally,

scheduled for Monday at the state Capitol in Little Rock.

Critics have said any legalization program would reward

lawbreakers. They have also raised concerns that unskilled

immigrants depress wages and require more state spending on

services like education and hospitals.

An estimated 40 thousand illegal immigrants lived in Arkansas in

2004, and the results of the last amnesty suggest many would

participate in a legalization program. But federal studies of the

last amnesty suggest that, unlike Martinez, many would not learn

English and would continue to struggle financially.

The 38-year-old Martinez says he'd like to see Congress legalize

more immigrants and end divisive debates so everyone can help build

up America. But he says no one should expect immigrants to stop


Martinez said "we're all immigrants in this country and

we're immigrants in the world.''

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