LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ immigrant population, among the fastest-growing in the nation, has a positive impact on the state’s economy, according to results of a study released Tuesday.
The report, "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas 2013" commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, also found that more than 4 in 10 immigrants in the state are undocumented.
The immigrant population here grew by 82 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the report, a rate behind only Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Steve Appold, an assistant professor in the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina and a researcher on the study, said the net economic impact of immigrants in Arkansas in 2010 equaled about $3.4 billion. He estimated their presence cost the state about $555 million, mostly for public education and health care.
Immigrants fill many low-wage manufacturing jobs in Arkansas, particularly in the poultry industry, according to Appold, and many other businesses depend on immigrant labor, added Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce-Associated Industries of Arkansas.
"We need them," Zook said during a news conference at the state Capitol announcing the report. "Immigrants provide a critical level of labor resource that is absolutely vital to the state. Without the immigrant population in Arkansas … a number of sectors in the state would be greatly challenged to function, much less to prosper."
Sherece West-Scantlebury, president and CEO of the Rockefeller foundation, said the purpose of the report was "to educate and inform and to provide data to communities, business leaders, policy makers … (so) when we talk about immigrants and immigration in Arkansas that it is a conversation that is driven and informed by relevant, important data."
The report did not address the politics of immigration, noting that is a federal issue.
However, Joel Anderson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, urged the Legislature pass legislation to make the children of undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition rates.
"It’s certainly an issue on which the state ought to make progress," Anderson said during the news conference. "In my judgment it’s one of those issues that everybody … ought to be able to pull that out and see that as a noncontroversial, nonpolitical issue. Can’t we say it really makes sense not only for their sake but for our sake because of all the benefits from having a more educated population?"
The report found that immigrants total about 146,000 in Arkansas, about 5 percent of the state’s 1.9 million residents. Nationally, immigrants make up 13 percent of the population.
The report said a majority of immigrants in the state, 51 percent, are from Mexico, 7 percent are from El Salvador, 4 percent from India, 3 percent each from Vietnam, Laos, Germany and the Philippines, and 2 percent from Guatemala, Korea, Canada and China.
The report said that 42 percent of immigrants in the state are undocumented, compared to 29 percent nationally.