Politics & Government

Businesses blast immigration bill

TOPEKA — A coalition of Kansas business groups launched a campaign Wednesday against immigration proposals it argues are burdensome to companies and local governments.

The proposal includes a plan similar to one enacted in Arizona requiring law enforcement officers to check the citizenship status of suspected illegal immigrants.

The Kansas Business Coalition used a forum on immigration issues to highlight what it sees as the problems in the state pursuing immigration policy. Several dozen legislators attended.

The coalition includes the state's major agribusiness groups, such as the Kansas Farm Bureau and Livestock Association; trade associations for contractors and restaurant operators; and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.

They oppose a bill to require state agencies and contractors to make a good-faith effort to check the legal status of their employees, using the federal E-Verify program. It also contains a provision requiring law enforcement officers to check the citizenship or immigration status of someone stopped for another reason if officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. illegally.

Kathleen Campbell Walker, a Texas immigration attorney, said such laws are more complicated to enforce and burdensome for businesses than usually advertised. She and Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government, also said the laws will open cities and counties to lawsuits and new costs that states can't afford to cover.

"If you've got unlimited resources and you want to make a statement on federal law enforcement then go for it, but I can't imagine that makes much sense for limited state dollars," Walker said after the forum. "It involves a lot of cost and a lot of implementation thought, and unfortunately people don't have the patience to listen to the minutiae that is immigration law."

The immigration proposals are being pushed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe. He had help in drafting it from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a fellow Republican and a Kansas City-area law professor on leave who helped draft the law Arizona enacted last year.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee plans to have a hearing on Kinzer's legislation within a few weeks. Kinzer did not attend Wednesday's forum but said he's not surprised by the business coalition's opposition, having encountered similar resistance in the past.

"Those who don't want to see us take on the immigration issue for whatever reason are always going to come with excuses with respect to why it can't be done," Kinzer said.

Kinzer's legislation already has faced sharp criticism because opponents think the provision similar to Arizona's law would lead to racial profiling in policing.

He and Kobach have said that's not the case, because the legislation specifically says the reasons for checking someone's immigration or citizenship status can't be tied to their race or ethnicity.

The forum largely steered clear of that argument — though Walker noted some Arizona officials' concerns about lost convention business because of the controversy surrounding that state's law. Walker said law enforcement officials will need extensive training just to be able to sort through different kinds of immigration documents.

She also said such a law is likely to increase the distrust of law enforcement agencies, so that people will be less likely to report crime to them.

Taylor said local governments likely face big costs in training their personnel and transporting and holding people they identify as potentially being in the country illegally. The E-Verify provisions also would increase local governments' costs and subject them to lawsuits if they wrongly exclude companies from bidding for contracts, he said.

"We're going to be caught in a very big bind," Taylor said. "We can't afford it. We don't have the staff to be able to administer the law the way it's proposed, and it would be totally unworkable."

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