Kansas lawmakers drafting bills to target illegal immigration
November 19, 2007
WICHITA, Kan. ” Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Kansas are drafting separate bills targeting illegal immigration amid fears about a potential influx of illegal immigrants from neighboring states that have already started cracking down.
Across the nation, at least 127 cities and states have passed or are considering local laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration, according to a database compiled by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a project of the Center for Community Change, an immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
In Kansas, some people are concerned that illegal immigrants may move here from the neighboring states of Oklahoma, Colorado and Missouri, which have passed laws or instituted policies aimed at illegal immigration.
“I don’t believe Kansas should become a sanctuary state as other states continue to pass legislation,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.
If the federal government is not going to solve the illegal immigration problem, she said, then states have to step in.
Her proposal, which is still being drafted, is based on laws in Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado, Landwehr said. It would revoke business licenses and impose civil penalties on any Kansas business found to have employed an illegal immigrant, enforce federal law denying public benefits to illegal immigrants and strengthen local enforcement efforts.
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The measure also would impose civil and criminal penalties on illegal immigrants and prohibit Kansas municipalities from becoming “sanctuary cities” by opting out of state immigration reform, she said.
Among Democrats, Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, is circulating a measure that would focus on employers who hire illegal immigrants, imposing state penalties for businesses that do and giving county prosecutors the power to enforce the law.
Her proposal also would revoke state licenses for employers caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, require more state reporting by employers and limit tax breaks that employers who hire illegal workers can claim on their state tax returns.
“It is clear we need more workers in Kansas, but we need them to be legal, earning a fair wage and paying taxes in Kansas,” Mah said.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius hasn’t said whether she would support anti-illegal immigration legislation. Her office issued a written statement saying the governor would consider any future legislation on its merits.
“There is a real need for comprehensive immigration reform and better border security. Unfortunately, Congress has not taken action on this issue and states are forced to deal with it on our own,” Sebelius said. “I expect that until Congress passes legislation to address our porous border, backlogged naturalization system and work force shortages, this issue will continue to be a topic of serious discussion.”
Sebelius signed a bill this year designed to make sure employers don’t hire illegal immigrants and misclassify them as independent contractors.
The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that 40,000 to 70,000 illegal immigrants live in Kansas, based on 2005 census data. But there is little evidence, other than scattered anecdotal accounts, of huge numbers of immigrants now fleeing to Kansas because of immigration crackdowns in neighboring states.
School enrollment figures, an early indicator of shifting populations, have remained essentially flat at schools in meatpacking towns such as Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal, where immigrants often settle, said Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of education. Any enrollment growth this school year is showing up as usual in large suburban areas in Johnson and Sedgwick counties, near military bases and in major university towns, he said.
Nonetheless, with immigration measures pending for the legislative session that starts in January, activists on both sides of the issue have been marshaling their forces.
Pat Fennel, director of Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, said Kansas Hispanics should concentrate on potential economic impacts of anti-immigration measures.
As an example, she pointed to the Smithfield Beef processing plant, which had proposed a $200 million project that would create as many as 3,000 jobs in Hooker, Okla. The company has put those plans on hold amid fears since the Oklahoma law’s passage that the company will not be able to find enough workers, Fennel said.
“This law is not just impacting the Latino undocumented,” Fennel said. “This law is impacting all segments of the economy.”
On the other side of the issue is the Kansas chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which hosted a strategy session in Wichita in September on how to push state laws targeting illegal immigrants.
Among the speakers was Carol Helms, director of Immigration Reform for Oklahoma, whose lobbying efforts were credited for passage in Oklahoma of a sweeping anti-illegal immigration measure. She gave Kansas participants a primer on lobbying tactics.
Immigrant groups may find an uneasy ally among Kansas farm organizations that have expressed concerns about a labor shortage and have opposed federal efforts to make employers more accountable for immigration laws.
Allie Devine, general counsel for the Kansas Livestock Association, said her group has not taken an official position on the proposed anti-immigrant legislation in Kansas because it has not yet seen the bills. She added that while the association does not condone employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, it doesn’t think employers should be enforcers of immigration law.