Columns » Bob McCord

A good week's work

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Arkansas’s legislators made the members of the U.S. Congress look helpless last week.

The senators and representatives gathered Monday and went home Friday after voting on the 35 issues presented to them by Governor Huckabee. The improvements to our public schools as demanded by the state Supreme Court were the most important bills, but nearly all of them were serious and controversial:

Increasing the minimum pay scale for teachers... Approving $13 million for isolated schools losing enrollment and $50 million to improve old school buildings... Increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.25 an hour... Banning smoking in most places where people are working... Requiring a minimum sentence of 25 years for anyone found guilty of raping a person under age 14.

And there was at least one bill that deserved to be squashed in a Senate committee — Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson’s bill that would have led to the reopening of the pitiful little high schools in rural areas that finally Arkansas has had the nerve to close. In this century, husbands and wives who live in the woods need to think about having kids, moving to town or either driving or busing their kids. In this day, they have to give their kids the best education they can.

You might think that’s something a lot of our people in Congress don’t understand. Some of them are more interested in vacation than work. In March the Congress went on a St. Patrick’s vacation, the first in the history of the Congress, and last week they bailed out for two weeks for Easter without doing a thing about the 12 million aliens who have sneaked into the country.

Polls show that more than half of Americans want the boundaries closed and those people already here sent back home. Late last year the House passed a bill (only Rep. Vic Snyder voted no among Arkansas’s four congressmen) that was in the right direction but was too tough. The idea of finding and arresting 12 million people and sending them back over the borders is impossible.

Most senators believed that, so last week they got to working on different bills. They wrote one that said that any person who had been here five years or more could stay and apply for permanent residency. Those who were here for only two years might be able to stay as a guest worker, or they might have to go back to their country but could immediately apply for temporary work in the United States. The ones who had been here only a year or less would have to leave with almost no chance to return.

Apparently there was agreement with Republicans and Democrats, and there were plans to conference with the House and attempts to create a bill both houses and parties would accept. But all of a sudden the Democrats walked away. One excuse is that Republicans have gotten so powerful that they no longer allow Democrats to come to conferences. Another one is that Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist denied Democrat Leader Harry Reid a 20-minute speech before the final vote on the bill.

We probably won’t know what really happened until their Easter vacation is over. Reporters on the Lehrer Newshour are even saying that there won’t be any immigration law passed this year because that’s what always happens when a blowup like this occurs. Not passing a law probably would please Republicans and Democrats because elections are just six months away, and what to do to change immigration is the kind of issue that almost every voter will have an opinion about.

But something has to be done to stop so many immigrants coming here because they take the place of poor Americans. Also, many of them sneak in drugs to sell, which is what we have too much of. Companies should be fined if they keep hiring illegal immigrants because they take jobs away from our kids. It’s popular to say that the immigrants get the jobs that American blacks won’t take, and it’s true that the pay in some jobs is just too low for most Americans to accept. However, employment statistics reveal that only four out of 10 maids or agricultural workers are immigrants.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has quoted the Center for Immigration Studies as saying that between 2000 and 2005, immigrants with high school degrees or less had 1.5 million jobs while American workers at the same educational level lost 3.2 million jobs.

I remember going as a young reporter to the Federal Building to watch and photograph people from other countries being sworn in as American and Arkansas citizens. You don’t hear much of that today, yet this state now has more foreign people than it has ever had. But now most of the immigrants have little or no interest in becoming citizens.

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