Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola on Thursday called on the state’s congressional delegation to support an immigration bill that he said was “very, very critical” for the city’s and Arkansas’ economies.
Stodola’s comments came two days after the U.S. Senate voted 84-15 to take up the bill, which would create strict border-security standards and a path to citizenship for those who are illegally in the country.
The state’s senators were split on the measure with Democrat Mark Pryor voting for the bill and Republican John Boozman voting against it.
Some Senate Republicans have said they will not vote for the bill until it is amended to include more border security requirements, which they say must be in place before illegal immigrants can be eligible for citizenship.
The measure will never be perfect, but it presents a compromise for both parties, Stodola said.
“It makes no sense to stand still on this issue,” he said.
Stodola, who serves as vice chairman of the United States Conference of Mayors Immigration Reform task force, said Arkansas has recorded a rapidly growing immigrant population, which contributed $3.9 billion in consumer spending and taxes in 2010, citing a report by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
The mayor also cited a report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform that found the state had an estimated population of 55,000 people who had entered the country illegally that annually cost the state more than $244 million.
Stodola was joined by Zulma Toro , the provost of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for a news conference on the school’s campus.
The immigration bill would have a “profound effect” on the state’s ability to educate and retain students, Toro said.
The bill would indirectly increase the number of people eligible for in-state tuition and scholarships and would help the state reach Gov. Mike Beebe’s goal of doubling the state’s degree-holders by 2025, Toro said.
“The cost of attending college makes it almost impossible to pursue a college education under their circumstances,” she said.
Also Thursday, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling released the results of a statewide survey that found 43 percent of Arkansans strongly support the bill and 24 percent somewhat support the measure.
Similar polls were conducted in 28 other states, where a minimum of 500 residents were interviewed by telephone. The group found support for the bill in those states ranged from 61 percent to 78 percent.
Stodola said he will also host an immigration discussion with city business leaders on Monday, which will include representatives from Caterpillar Inc., industrial contractor Lexicon Holding Co. and Dassault Falcon Jet.