Thursday, Jun 30, 2005
By Wesley Brown
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - In a impassioned speech before hundreds of influential Hispanic civil rights leaders from across the nation, Gov. Mike Huckabee told a captive audience Wednesday that America is great because it has always opened it doors up to people seeking a better way of life.
"I would hope that no matter who we are, or where we are from, that America should always be a place that opens its arms, opens it heart, opens its spirit to people who come because they want the best for their families ...," Huckabee said as the largely Hispanic audience gave him a standing ovation.
Huckabee was the keynote speaker, along with Tyson Foods Inc. Chairman and CEO John Tyson, at a noon luncheon of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is holding its 76th annual convention in Little Rock.
About 10,000 political, community and business leaders, along with exhibitors and speakers are in Little Rock attending the convention at the Statehouse Convention Center. The convention started Monday and runs through Saturday.
Although he never actually talked about the U.S. or Arkansas immigration policy, Huckabee made it very clear where he stood on the issue. In his opening remarks, he said the nation will need to address the concerns of the Hispanic community because of its growing influence and population base.
He told the LULAC delegates that their presence in the state's capital city was very important because Arkansas has one of the fastest growing Hispanic populations in the nation. "Your gathering is so very significant for our state," Huckabee said. "We are delighted to have you."
Despite several light moments, Huckabee did not stray away from several controversial issues that made him a target of criticism during the recently ended 85th General Assembly. He said Arkansas needs to make the transition from a traditional Southern state to one that recognizes and cherishes diversity "in culture, in language and in population."
"This is an issue that is going to require extraordinary efforts on both sides of the border, particularly those coming from Mexico," Huckabee said of verifying the status of illegal aliens. "But I am confident that our government will recognize that we should accommodate people who wish to provide the best opportunities for their families (and) employers so that we can make sure our economy has the necessary work force."
During the legislation session, Huckabee criticized an immigration bill by Republican senators Jim Holt of Springdale and Denny Altes of Fort Smith as un-Christian, un-American, irresponsible and anti-life. Senate Bill 206, which died in the Senate, would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote and also force state agencies to report suspected cases of people living in the country illegally. Holt, R-Springdale, replied later to Huckabee's comments that Christian charity does not include turning a blind eye to lawbreaking.