Hiring waiver sounds sensible

By Walt Braun

It’s intriguing that Kansas will seek a waiver from the federal government so the agriculture industry can hire illegal immigrants. Among other things, the situation illustrates that immigration isn’t as simple as deport-the-illegals-and-shut-the-border advocates suggest.

Fact is, some of the state’s large dairies and feedlots, especially in western Kansas, need workers — more workers than come from the ranks of citizens and legal aliens. 

“I need a waiver,” said Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman. “It would be good for Kansas agriculture.”

And what’s good for Kansas agriculture is generally good for the state. That’s why the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Farm Bureau and other organizations support Secretary Rodman’s initiative.

What’s envisioned is a limited program that, in conjunction with the federal government, would link pertinent firms with illegal immigrants who have lived in Kansas at least five years and do not have criminal records. The employers and the individuals they hire would pay fees that support the program so that it would not be a drain on the state.

Meanwhile, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was elected in part for his anti-immigration crusade, seeks a law this session that would require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure that new employees are not illegal aliens. He also helped write strict immigration laws in both Arizona and Alabama; efforts are now under way in Alabama to at least amend that law because of the negative economic impact it is having on agriculture there. In some cases produce has rotted because of the absence of immigrant labor — legal and illegal — that had long served Alabama’s agriculture industry.

The Department of Homeland Security should approve Secretary Rodman’s waiver request, especially if the program is as limited as early indications suggest. The secretary’s purpose, it’s worth noting, is to help sectors of the Kansas agriculture industry, not illegal immigrants.

It’s possible, however, that this episode will open some legislators’ eyes to the fact that many illegal immigrants have much to contribute to this state. In fact, their potential contributions extend well beyond dairies and feedlots.

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