U.S. lawmakers need to seize the opportunity to reform our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system. Meanwhile, Kansas lawmakers need to resist efforts by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to push our state in the wrong direction on immigration.
The 2012 presidential election has caused many Republicans to rethink their hard-line stance on immigration. The Latino vote was key to President Obama’s re-election, and Mitt Romney’s support of the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants (a policy championed by Kobach) helped drive Hispanics to the Democratic Party in record numbers.
As a result, a number of GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Even firebrand conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity said he has “evolved” on the immigration issue and now supports a pathway to citizenship.
House Republicans plan to vote this week on legislation that would expand visas for foreign students in science and technology. Some GOP senators are proposing a variation of the DREAM Act aimed at children of illegal immigrants. Those could be positive changes, but lawmakers also need to take bigger reform steps.
For example, former President Bush proposed a good reform plan in 2006 that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States and create a temporary worker program, as well as increase border security and workplace enforcement. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed a similar reform in 2010.
It’s been clear for many years that our nation’s immigration system needs overhaul, but many lawmakers have refused to consider measures other than increasing border security and making life as miserable as possible for illegal immigrants. The new openness of GOP leaders to comprehensive reform is an opportunity that Congress must not squander.
But while national leaders are moving constructively forward, Kobach wants Kansas to move backward.
Kobach has tried in the past to get Kansas to repeal its law allowing the qualifying children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Kansas public universities. He thinks he may now have the votes needed to revoke the law.
Kansas so far hasn’t passed aggressive law enforcement measures similar to those that Kobach helped author for Arizona and Alabama. Such legislation also might now be in play for Kansas.
The key to keeping the state from sliding backward is Gov. Sam Brownback. When he was in the U.S. Senate, Brownback supported comprehensive immigration reform and the humane treatment of immigrants before backing away from the issue when he ran for president.
Since becoming governor, Brownback hasn’t said much about immigration, other than that he thinks it is primarily a federal issue. Brownback needs to show more leadership and make it clear that Kobach’s policies aren’t right for Kansas or America.