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Armando Minjarez: Fix broken immigration system

  • Published Friday, June 28, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Kansas congressmen need to re-evaluate their association with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and start listening closely to the changing population in Kansas. It is time to take a hard look at what our American values are and how we define them.

I immigrated to Ulysses with my mother and brother at the age of 15 in the summer of 2001 and haven’t left the state since. I now have an art degree from Kansas State University and have built a career as a visual artist. My public sculptures and murals are woven into the identity of communities across the state. Also, in March I became eligible for citizenship and finally will be able to exercise my right to vote. And I’m not alone.

Between 2001 and 2009, I resided in both Ulysses and Garden City and witnessed a dramatic change in demographics primarily driven by the farming, livestock and natural fossil-fuel industries. According to the 2010 census, the average racial makeup of southwest Kansas communities is just more than 50 percent Latino or Hispanic origin. What’s more, a recent study published by the Immigration Policy Center showed that 1 in 8 Kansans is Latino or Asian.

According to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented Kansans paid $57.3 million in state and local taxes in 2010, which includes $10.3 million in state income taxes, $3.9 million in property taxes and $43.1 million in sales taxes. Foreign students contributed $204 million to the state’s economy in tuition, fees and living expenses for the 2011-12 academic year, according to the Association of International Educators. I was one of those “foreign students.”

Kansas needs immigration reform if we want the economy to subsist.

I believe in Kansas values and American values, and our elected officials must represent those, too. We go to church, are active in community clubs and organizations, inject fading communities with vibrancy and culture, and revive Main Street with new business. This is what characterizes the American desire for self-betterment and prosperity for all families.

Kobach’s policies are grounded on paranoia and intangible fears. They directly go against existing federal law.

I call on Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts to distance themselves from extremist and irrational GOP politicians and fix our broken immigration system. They and other delegation members should support a bipartisan commonsense approach to immigration reform that puts the Kansas values of family unity and economic stability first and includes a clear road map to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented Americans.

Armando Minjarez of Wichita is a visual artist and a member of Sunflower Community Action.

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