Immigration Reform Could Harm State, State GOP Director Says

John Lyon, Arkansas News Bureau, September 20, 2007

In an e-mail to a Republican legislator, the state executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas cautioned against “feel-good legislation” to combat illegal immigration.

State GOP chairman Dennis Milligan said Wednesday he had not seen the e-mail sent by party director Karen Ray, but he said illegal immigration is a problem that has to be solved at the federal level, not the state level.

“Passing fair policies that make it easier for businesses to locate in Arkansas should be our priority, not passing feel-good legislation that is unconstitutional and runs the risk of making our party look racist. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh,” Ray wrote in the e-mail.

She also wrote that that lawmakers “should be championing economic policies that create jobs, not introducing immigration legislation that makes Arkansas less attractive to business.”

Ray said Wednesday her comments were not meant to reflect the state party’s views.

“With that being said, the Republican Party being an all-inclusive party is firmly committed to policies that provide economic growth for industry in Arkansas and better paying jobs for all Arkansans. I have an obligation to listen to concerns from all entities involved in this discussion,” Ray told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

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“The party’s position on immigration, coming from me, the chairman, is that is a federal issue that has got to be determined by the president and Congress,” Milligan said. “They’ve got to come to a meeting of the minds. Anything that’s done internally statewide (through) legislation is probably going to have a difficult time . . . trumping federal law.”

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But with both the executive director and the chairman of the state Republican Party speaking against immigration reform at the state level, the party leadership appears to be at odds with Green and other Republican lawmakers who say the state may need to act on immigration.

Green said it is too soon to say what kind of legislation, if any, may result from the interim study, but he said in the absence of immigration reform at the federal level, the Legislature has a responsibility at least to study the issue.

“I really resent the fact that the state of Arkansas is having to use taxpayers’ money to even study this, because this is an expense to the state that we shouldn’t have to be doing,” he said. “But the people want us to be forthright about money being spent, and they want us to follow suit with what some of these other states are doing to crack down on illegal activity.”

Milligan’s predecessor as GOP chairman, Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, supported taking at least some action on immigration at the state level. In 2005, Baker was the Senate sponsor of legislation allowing Arkansas state troopers to receive training in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Since that law was passed, no Arkansas troopers have received the training. . .

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