While Donald Trump is boasting about building walls and deporting illegal immigrants, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and other business and community leaders are calling for real immigration reform.
The chamber was part of a national Day of Action this month that highlighted the impact and importance of immigration and the need for comprehensive reform.
Immigrants make up 7 percent of the Kansas population and contributed $1.4 billion in taxes in 2014, or about 7 percent of the total, according to new research by the Partnership for a New American Economy. Immigrants earned $5.2 billion in 2014, or 6.7 percent of all income earned in the state.
The research also said that immigrants make up 5.3 percent of all entrepreneurs in Kansas and that more than 30,000 people in Kansas are employed at firms owned by immigrants.
The chamber supports federal immigration reform that includes a work visa program, a reliable national employment verification system, a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States and continued focus on border security.
“We need a system that drives job creation and economic growth, utilizing the talents of people here and abroad,” it said in a policy statement.
A bipartisan immigration bill passed the U.S. Senate in 2013 that included such reforms. It would have doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and completed 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also required employers to verify the legal status of workers and provided a three-year pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in this country.
In addition to the Kansas Chamber, more than 20 top business groups in Kansas endorsed the Senate bill, including the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Wichita Independent Business Association. More than 30 mayors in Kansas, including former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, also supported reform.
“The immigrant population of Kansas includes valued members of our community,” the mayors wrote in a letter to the Kansas congressional delegation in 2013. “We are supportive of a solution that allows reasonable access to citizenship while assuring adequate border security.”
But the bill went nowhere in the U.S. House. And since then, opposition to comprehensive reform has grown in the Republican Party – and become a more prominent part of the official party platform, due to the activism of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants is also hostile, painting them as rapists and would-be terrorists.
But business, community and faith groups aren’t giving up hope. They know that the immigration system is broken and needs comprehensive reform – not just bigger walls.