Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach doesnt take no for an answer. So he had a predictably tortured interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Courts takedown of most of the Arizona immigration law he co-authored that it was a win for state laws targeting illegal immigrants and a green light for Kansas to pass a similar crackdown. It was neither.
In striking down the bulk of the law, including measures making it a state crime to seek a job or be employed without authorization, the court underscored that illegal immigration is a federal issue. The state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
Yet Kobach somehow read the decision as a call for Kansas to pursue policies that undermine federal law.
Even the courts move to uphold the papers, please provision which compels Arizona law enforcement officers to check the residency status of people they have detained for other reasons and they suspect are in the country illegally was a matter of timing, rather than an endorsement. The justices just thought it premature to judge the provision without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts.
If Kansas passed a similar ID-check law next year, as Kobach urges, it would only invite its own costly legal fight. The defense of Arizonas law has cost nearly $3 million so far (in its case, mostly covered by private donations).
There can also be economic costs. In Alabama, farmers and contractors have complained that states harsh law (also courtesy of Kobach) has led legal as well as illegal workers to flee, and a University of Alabama economist predicted it could cost the state as much as $10.8 billion in annual gross domestic product.
Kobach has seen victory in other defeats, too, including his failure to overturn state laws in Kansas and elsewhere allowing certain children of undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.
To their credit, state lawmakers of both parties have shut down the annual attempts to repeal Kansas 2004 law.
Influenced by the Kansas Chamber and other business groups, the Legislature even has declined to require businesses to check the immigration status of new employees with the federal E-Verify database something that would seem like common sense to many Kansans.
For all of its moonlighting secretary of states unequivocal pronouncements on cable news, Kansas has shown good judgment in declining to act rashly on illegal immigration. Gov. Sam Brownback, who has been a voice of reason on the issue in the past, should help ensure that doesnt change as so many other faces change in Topeka next year.
Meanwhile, elected officials at the federal level should take the courts decision as a hard shove toward comprehensive immigration reform.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman