October 29, 2007
LITTLE ROCK--Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas announced that it is part of a coalition working for fair and equal treatment and due process for immigrants, and those perceived to be immigrants, in Arkansas.  The new group, the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, consists of leaders in the faith, business, and social justice communities.
"Arkansas has seen one of the country's fastest growing Latino populations over the last ten years and the reception has not always been warm," said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar.  "Some local and state government officials have tried to portray every immigrant as a criminal, a gang member or drug abuser who is a drain on society.  This coalition hopes to counter that view and ensure that no one's rights are violated because of the color of their skin or their ability to speak English."
The press release issued by the Friendship Coalition
We are a nation of immigrants.  The very foundations of our country were built on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of immigrants.  Those were hopes and dreams of a land of opportunity that would provide a better life for their families.  It is those same hopes, dreams and aspirations that today imbue the over 100,000 immigrants who have come to call Arkansas home. Through their hopes and dreams, immigrants are making a huge contribution to Arkansas.  We, as a group of leaders in this state, have come together to form a coalition to encourage a reasonable and respectful approach to the immigration debate in Arkansas.
Our core beliefs are:

  • All Arkansas residents deserve dignity and protection of their rights.
  • Immigration is a federal issue. State and local money should not be wasted trying to fix a problem that ultimately only the federal government can solve.
  • State and local governments should not take punitive actions targeting our state's immigrant population.

Those hopes and dreams of a better life have provided an economic benefit to the state of Arkansas.  In a recent study by the non-partisan Urban Institute, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas, April 2007) reported that:

  • Immigrants added $3 billion to the Arkansas economy in 2004. (Vol. 2, pg. 5)
  • Our immigrant community used $237 million in state services (mostly educational and health services) in 2004 but paid $257 million in taxes resulting in a surplus to the state budget of almost $20 million. (Vol. 2, pg. 17)
  • If we sent all the immigrants home tomorrow, our manufacturing output would drop by $1.4 billion and factories would close across Arkansas due to an acute labor shortage. (Vol. 2, pg. 17)
  • Immigrant spending has created 23,100 jobs that are held primarily by Arkansans born in the United States . Those jobs would disappear if our immigrant community disappears. (Vol. 2, pg. 5)
  • Central Arkansas would alone lose $638 million in business revenues, 5,000 jobs and $143 million in payroll without its immigrant community. An even greater impact would exist in Northwest Arkansas . (Vol. 2, pg. 6)
  • There are nine counties: Benton , Craighead, Crawford, Faulkner, Garland, Pulaski, Saline, Sebastian and Washington, which have immigrant populations with at least $50 million in purchasing power, that is, income available for spending in the local communities after taxes, savings and remittances have been subtracted. (Vol. 2, pg. 6)
  • The education of immigrant children represents an important investment in Arkansas' future workforce. If we permit them, many will go to college and accelerate the economic progress their parents have started. (Vol. 1, pg. 64)

We invite you to join our efforts to speak up for the over 100,000 immigrants who call Arkansas home.  We invite you to share in their hopes and dreams of a better life, which is the American dream.  You can do this by going to our website at http://www.arfriendshipcoalition.org/ and sign on to assist us in our mission.  We will be speaking to elected officials on behalf of immigrants; offering a speaker's bureau; and, engaging in public advocacy.
Founding members of the Arkansas Friendship Coalition
Rev. Steve Copley, Chair of the of Arkansas Friendship Coalition and a United Methodist pastor
Archie Schaffer, Government Affairs, Tyson Foods
Randy Wilbourn, Alltel Corporation
Rita Sklar, Director of the Arkansas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union
Warren Stephens, Stephens Inc.
Rev. Gordon Garlington and Rev. Howard Gordon, Presbyterian pastors
Neal Sealy, ACORN
Tommy Fish, Associated General Contractors (AGC)
Graham Catlett and Paul Charton, Catlett and Stodola Law Firm
Rev. Michael Mattox, Methodist minister
Bishop Larry Maze, retired Episcopal Bishop
Stacy Sells, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods
Mary Beth Ringgold, a restaurateur and owner of Cajuns Wharf, Copper Grill and Capers
Rabbi Gene Levy, Reform Jewish leader in Little Rock
Rev. Lowell Grisham of Fayetteville, an Episcopalian priest
Skip Rutherford, Clinton School of Public Service
Rev. Joyce Hardy, an Episcopalian pastor
Penelope Sur, a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service
Alan Leveritt, Publisher of Arkansas Times and El Latino newspapers
Haskell Dickinson, President of McGeorge Contracting
Rev. Bob Klein, a Unitarian Universalist pastor
Rev. Wendell Griffen, a Baptist pastor and member of the Arkansas Court of Appeals