Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s opposition to a bill that would help undocumented immigrants get limited work privileges in this state isn’t a surprise. He’s an absolutist as well as an expert on the topic of illegal immigrants, and has helped other states write laws that, in contrast to this proposal, are openly hostile to undocumented aliens.
Mr. Kobach came across as downright shrill in testimony about the bill Tuesday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Not only did he liken the proposal, which would allow certain undocumented aliens to work for firms that are desperate for laborers, to “state-level amnesty,” but he also said there is no need for such workers. In fact he said the bill was “a slap in the face” to out-of-work Kansans.
Some employers, however, testified that their efforts to hire U.S. citizens have fallen well short of meeting their needs; it is those businesses, mostly in the agriculture industry in the western part of the state, that seek the authority to hire undocumented workers.
Under the federal waiver request sought by Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman, the state would determine which businesses have significant enough shortages to hire undocumented workers. The proposal is supported by the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Farm Bureau and other organizations.
To qualify, undocumented immigrants would have to have been Kansas residents for at least five years. They also would have to be fingerprinted, undergo background checks and agree to learn English. Anyone on the Department of Homeland Security’s “deportation priority list” would, of course, be disqualified.
We agree in principle that immigration issues are best handled by the federal government. Its inability or unwillingness to confront the multi-faceted issue, however, has left a void that, for better or for worse, is being filled by the states.
To its credit, Kansas isn’t as hostile to undocumented workers as states such as Arizona and Alabama. Nor, to be fair, has Kansas openly welcomed illegal aliens. This state’s approach has been guided more by pragmatism.
Kansas permits certain children of illegal immigrants to quality for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities because it is as good for the state as it is for the students. In the case of the present legislation, it is the needs of Kansas employers that are the priority, not the preferences of undocumented workers.
Rather than condemn this bill for the opportunities it creates for a limited number of illegal immigrants, we note that their presence creates opportunities for Kansas businesses to prosper.