Topeka — A House committee questioned an immigration agent for more than 30 minutes Tuesday, with some members blaming lack of federal enforcement for the presence of illegal aliens in the state.
The questioning occurred during a Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to allow undocumented workers to apply for driver's licenses by using an individual taxpayer identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.
"This bill would help guarantee licensed and insured drivers in the state," said Rep. Rick Rehorn, D-Kansas City.
He added, however, "I'm frustrated because there are at least 200,000 undocumented workers in Kansas, because the federal government wants them here to fill jobs."
Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the state must decide how to handle illegal immigrants because of the reality of their presence.
A Kansas law enacted two years ago required immigrants to show proof of U.S. residency when they applied for a license.
The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service contends the bill would increase the number of drivers licenses issued to illegal immigrants and interfere with INS work.
"It is things like this bill ... that have hampered the INS in part of its mission," said Robert Visnaw, INS special agent.
Asked by the committee whether the INS would pick up any illegal immigrant if contacted by a law enforcement agency, Visnaw replied, "Yes."
But Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass testified that the INS had quit coming for illegal immigrants long ago.
Douglass said failed national immigration policy made it necessary for Kansas to act.
"The state of Kansas did not create the dichotomy of immigration," Douglass said. "If we take away the ability to drive, people will illegally drive."
Rep. Tom Klein, R-Wichita, said that current federal policy ignores the reality that immigrants are already here.
The legislative bill is HB 2135.