House hopefuls split on illegal-alien laws
By Laura Kellams
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
FORT SMITH - Sebastian County legislative candidates disagreed at a forum Monday over whether Arkansas should crack down on employers in an attempt to curb illegal immigration.
The county shares a border with Oklahoma, where one of the strictest state immigration laws took effect in November. Under the law, employers may be guilty of a felony if they know, or act in reckless disregard of the fact that, an employee is in the United States illegally. Brandon Woodrome, a Fort Smith Republican running for the state House seat in District 64, said that his immigration plan includes measures similar to Oklahoma’s new law. He said illegal immigration rewards business at the cost of the middle class. “It’s costing taxpayers thousands of dollars so that big business can have cheap labor,” Woodrome said. “We’ve got to take a stand and quit allowing this.” A study released by the National Conference of State Legislatures reported last week that as of the end of March, state lawmakers nationwide had considered at least 1,606 immigrationrelated bills this year. Twenty-six states had enacted 44 laws on the subject. The Arkansas Legislature doesn’t meet in regular session again until January, when the 87th General Assembly convenes. Lawmakers have been discussing for months what type of legislation to introduce next year and whether a law like Oklahoma’s is in order. Woodrome’s opponent in the May 20 primary, Stephanie Malone of Fort Smith, said she needs to read the Oklahoma law in more detail. But she said she agrees with the idea that state government should target businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens. She said she’s not sure she’d sponsor legislation as sweeping as Oklahoma’s, however. “I’ve heard there have been some backlashes,” Malone said.
Democratic opponents in the District 65 race said they would not support legislation that goes after employers in part because verifying workers’ eligibility is so difficult. Mark Horoda, a Fort Smith lawyer who’s challenging Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Fort Smith in the May 20 primary, said it’s laudable for the state to try to take on enforcement when the federal government doesn’t.
But he said it’s too easy to fake documents. “We’re in a computer age where it’s very possible to make a sophisticated forgery with very little effort,” he said. “I am not trained as an expert document examiner, and I dare say I don’t know anybody in the regular work force that’s trained to do that, either.” A better way might be requiring employees to take payment through a bank account, which could require a more sophisticated verification system, he said. “My question is, can we think outside the box, instead of just always trying to point at the employer who’s not necessarily that qualified to address the issue?” Horoda asked. Pennartz said she agreed with Horoda about the difficulty of verifying employee documents. Primary responsibility for enforcement of immigration policy lies with the federal government, which must take on more of the burden, she said. “The states have been very innovative in some of the ways we’re trying to meet the challenge of illegals in our country,” Pennartz said. “We can’t shoulder that responsibility alone.” In discussing immigration, Woodrome didn’t go as far as he did in a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In the interview, he said he’d be in favor of asking Hispanics for citizenship documents. “If you run across a Hispanic, then just ask them, are you an illegal immigrant? Can I see your papers? Can I see your license? That’s not - I’m sure if I was in a presidential race, I’d be touted as a racist, fascist whatever,” he said. He later said that if that’s a problem, perhaps all people pulled over at traffic stops or making contact with law enforcement should be asked for documents. He said he’s not sure yet what type of document would be sufficient to prove citizenship. Malone, in an interview, said she doesn’t agree with Woodrome. “That’s kind of radical,” she said. In clarifying his statements last week, Woodrome said he doesn’t want to target only Hispanics but wants to find “a solution fair and equal to all.”
The winner of the race in District 64 between Malone and Woodrome will face Mike Bock, a Democrat. The seat is open because Rep. Jim Medley, R-Fort Smith, is barred by the state’s term-limits amendment fromseeking re-election. There is no Republican candidate in District 65. Monday’s forum was sponsored by the Fort Smith chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Arkansas, Pages 16 on 04/29/2008
Copyright © 2008, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.All rights reserved.This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
May 20th will be the election of primary candidates and judicial positions. We must do all we can to help candidates who will oppose illegal immigration.