TOPEKA | Kansas joined Arizona on the front lines of one of Americaâ€™s hottest political debates Thursday when conservative state leaders introduced legislation targeting illegal immigrants.
Modeled after Arizonaâ€™s controversial law on illegal immigration, the bill proposes several measures to deal with a problem that supporters contend the federal government has too long ignored. The proposed legislation would:
â€¢Require local police to check the legal status of those they suspect might be in the U.S. illegally.
â€¢Require proof of citizenship for anyone seeking public assistance.
â€¢Make it illegal to harbor illegal residents and bolster the penalties for making fake identifications.
â€¢Insist that state and local governments and their contractors run citizenship checks on all new hires.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, wrote the bill with Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican. Both said the bill took some provisions of Arizonaâ€™s law â€” known as SB 1070 â€” and added other pieces from earlier proposals in Kansas.
Kobach helped write the Arizona law. Many of its provisions were blocked by the federal courts. Still, Kobach said he thinks the Kansas bill is on solid legal ground.
Kobach predicted the bill would pass, thanks to last Novemberâ€™s election, which put more conservatives in the Legislature and Republican Sam Brownback in the governorâ€™s office. Brownback has yet to weigh in on the bill.
â€œI heard from many, many constituents last fall that Kansas needs an SB-1070-style bill in Kansas,â€ Kobach said. â€œThe political climate has become much more receptive to these types of proposals.â€
With anti-illegal sentiment running high across the nation, lawmakers in several other states also are looking to implement parts or all of the Arizona law. In addition, Kansas lawmakers are considering repealing a state law granting in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants and requiring voters to show identification to crack down on illegal immigrant voter fraud.
Like those measures, the new Arizona-style bill is likely to pass the conservative-led Kansas House. But political observers said it could run into challenges in the more moderate Senate.
Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said he thinks it is foolish to consider Arizona-style reforms now while that stateâ€™s new laws are entangled in legal challenges.
â€œWhy would we go down the same road as Arizona until thereâ€™s a determination in the federal courts?â€ Vratil asked. â€œItâ€™s silly as far as Iâ€™m concerned. All weâ€™re going to do is get sued.â€
Key to the legislationâ€™s passage is a compromise designed to ease concerns from the stateâ€™s business community.
Three years ago, lawmakers proposed requiring all businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check the citizenship of new hires. Those that refused would face fines. But business and agriculture groups loudly complained and the bill died.
This yearâ€™s bill, however, requires only state and local government and their private contractors to use E-Verify.
â€œWe tried to strike a reasonable balance,â€ Kinzer said.
While the Kansas Chamber of Commerce would prefer federal immigration reform, the group said in a statement Thursday that Kinzer â€œhas addressed some major points of contention within our membership.â€
Despite the compromise, many businesses will still oppose the law, predicted Mira Mdivani, president of the Corporate Immigration Compliance Institute and an immigration attorney in Overland Park.
Mdivani worried that businesses making even unintentional mistakes with E-Verify could face felony perjury charges and lose their business licenses for three years. She said Kansas leaders should focus instead on the stateâ€™s budget crisis or the sluggish economy.
â€œItâ€™s such a waste of the scarce resources of our state, especially now,â€ Mdivani said. â€œIn a time when weâ€™re all concerned about government spending and business regulation, they want to do this?â€
Critics of the Arizona law argue that local police donâ€™t have the training, time or resources to enforce federal immigration law.
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