TOPEKA — As Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants wends its way through the courts, some Kansas lawmakers are suggesting the Sunflower State pursue similar measures.
Lawmakers here spent much of the 2008 session debating a package of sweeping changes similar to Arizona's law. The proposal was written by Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for Kansas secretary of state. He helped write Arizona's law.
"It was a pretty comprehensive piece of legislation and I think there are still folks in the Legislature who would be interested in looking at some of those things again," said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, one of the 2008 proposal's champions.
The measure floundered under opposition from the business community, which contended the changes ultimately would hurt businesses.
That hasn't extinguished the desire of some to change Kansas' laws on illegal immigration.
During the waning hours of the 2010 legislative session, state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, attempted to insert language similar to Arizona's law into a budget bill. That was determined to be against the rules.
Proponents promised the issue would return in 2011. Others, though, expect the Legislature to focus on different issues, especially improving the economy.
Kobach has vowed in his campaign to push for laws requiring voter photo ID and to crack down on the voter fraud he believes is happening. His opponent, Democratic Secretary of State Chris Biggs, as well as previous Republican secretaries of state, have said Kansas doesn't have a significant problem with voter fraud.
If Kobach were elected, it would show that Kansans want reforms on illegal immigration and voter fraud, Kinzer said.
"His election would be a real mandate with moving forward with legislation that addresses these concerns," Kinzer said.
But Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the outcome of the gubernatorial race between U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and state Sen. Tom Holland is likely to have a bigger impact on immigration law changes in Kansas.
Brownback, a Republican and the front-runner in the race, has been a supporter of efforts to provide illegal immigrants with a path toward citizenship and has not focused on running on the issue of illegal immigration, Figueroa said.
Asked if he supported Kansas pursuing an Arizona-style law, Brownback would say only that he thought the state should "watch what happens in the court system."
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's law.
Federal courts have temporarily blocked implementation of some portions: allowing police to check a person's immigration status while officers enforce other laws and requiring legal immigrants to carry proof of residency.
Holland said that, if elected, he would continue to support efforts that would target employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants.
An estimated 65,000 illegal immigrants live in Kansas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The proposals lawmakers considered in 2008 would have:
* Required businesses to check potential employee's work status using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the federal E-Verify program, which checks people's eligibility to work through Social Security numbers.
* Required law enforcement to check people's citizenship and immigration status.
* Required driver's license applicants to sign an affidavit swearing they were a U.S. citizen.
* Barred illegal immigrants from receiving state or federal aid.
* Made it a crime to register illegal immigrants to vote or for them to cast a ballot.
Although the economy and gaping budget holes have captured the majority of lawmakers' attention for the past few years, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said she thought some of that attention would start to refocus on illegal immigration.
"There is a lot of lip service that comes out of the federal government," she said. "It is only right for states to step up to protect the jobs in Kansas."
Landwehr worked with Kinzer in 2008 on the immigration package and still would like to see businesses use e-Verify and tougher sanctions.
She said illegal immigration plays into concerns about unemployment.
"If people are without jobs, people are going to take any jobs that are available," she said. Some of the positions filled previously by illegal immigrants might look more appealing to unemployed folks, she added.
That may not always be the case.
According to a recent Associated Press analysis of government data for federal seasonal farm worker programs, Americans don't seem to want those jobs, which are frequently filled by undocumented workers.
The report shows that in California — where one in eight people are out of work — farmers have posted ads for 1,160 farm workers since January. The jobs are open to U.S. citizens and legal residents seeking work.
Only 233 people applied after being linked with the jobs through unemployment offices in California, Texas, Nevada and Arizona, AP reported.
What about 2011?
Other political watchers aren't convinced that 2011 will be Kansas' year to pass a tough illegal immigration law.
"Ultimately, I don't think it is going to be settled at the state level. It is going to be settled at the national," said Wichita State University political science professor Ken Ciboski.
Kobach's efforts have raised awareness of the issue but Ciboski said he isn't sure how widespread the anger is.
"He (Kobach) is a catalyst for calling attention to this and getting things moving," Ciboski said. "But, I don't know that the state Legislature is going to act on this."
For the most part, the lawmakers who were in office in 2008 will likely be there after the Nov. 2 election, said Ed Hays, former director of the Kansas and Missouri chapters of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which advocates securing this country's border with Mexico. He said he did not think changes are imminent.
"Who knows where they'll be? I think when this next election is over with, if they don't see the handwriting on the wall, they will go out and they will get defeated the next time," he said.
Hays said he plans to stay involved in the issue, but in a different way. The Minuteman group has disbanded locally, and he has turned his attention to creating a memorial for people killed by illegal immigrants similar to ones for soldiers killed in wars.
Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, who pushed for laws in 2008 targeting employers who "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants, said he didn't hear the same concerns on the campaign trail this year.
People still are concerned about unemployment, he said.
Other issues "all seem to pale in proportion to that one issue of what is it that the state of Kansas can do to promote the economy and help turn things around," he said.