An incoming Wichita state representative challenged the outgoing Wichita mayor Thursday over a city proposal to issue driving permits to illegal immigrants.
The dustup between Rep. John Whitmer and Mayor Carl Brewer came near the end of a presentation by Brewer to the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation.
The meeting is the annual opportunity for local governments to make their requests for legislative action and this year, one of Wichita’s asks is for legislation authorizing special driving permits for undocumented immigrants.
Whitmer, a Republican and an opponent of the proposal, peppered the mayor with a rapid-fire series of questions about it.
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“There have been those who have said that driving permits for illegals deny jobs for American citizens, I’m curious what your thoughts are on that,” Whitmer said. “What’s your thoughts on the fact that there are those who say that the illegals carry multiple ID’s and therefore issuing a driver permit thus enhances criminal activity.”
“I want to know how you think we’re going to pay for issuing drivers’ licenses to illegals,” he continued. “Also, I want to know how you would justify rewarding unlawful action, whether or not you’re rewarding illegals by giving them a permit which thus allows them to make it easier for them to remain in Wichita.”
Brewer replied that he sees the permit process as a matter of practicality that would allow the city to get some kind of a handle on how many illegal immigrants there are in Wichita and make the streets safer for all drivers.
Under the city’s proposal, immigrants obtaining the permits would have to pass a driving test, pay a fee and show proof of insurance if they own a car, he said.
“If you are in the middle of an accident, then this will eliminate the possibility of somebody hitting and running and you having to pay the deductible,” Brewer said. “You have the opportunity that you can file an insurance claim.”
Whitmer interrupted Brewer twice during the mayor’s response, once to say he wasn’t answering the questions and again to object when Brewer referred to illegal residents as “a group of citizens.”
After agreeing to call them “human beings” instead of “citizens,” Brewer continued:
“OK, however we want to refer to them or however you want to refer to them, they’re here and they’re not leaving. They’re working and they’re going to school and things of that nature here in the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County and the state of Kansas.”
Brewer said later that the city just wants the Legislature to consider the proposal, as it does other proposals for local projects.
He said he doesn’t think it would place a financial burden on the state because it could be paid for with fees from applicants.
“You can charge for things like that,” he said.
Later, Whitmer said he had received some calls from constituents with questions about the Wichita proposal.
He said he opposes it because he’s not sure the fees would cover the costs.
Also, he said: “I’m sorry, but they are illegal. And you’re rewarding an unlawful behavior.”
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.