Topeka Businesses that employ illegal immigrants would be barred from government contracts and could be forced to return tax breaks and state loans under a bill sponsored by a Wichita legislator.
Democratic Rep. Nile Dillmore said he suspected the hiring of illegal immigrants was widespread and that immigration laws were rarely enforced.
"It's unfortunately one of our dirty little secrets," he told The Wichita Eagle. "I believe that business and our federal government in general have turned a blind eye toward this problem, and business finds it advantageous to have these workers here."
Dillmore filed the bill last week, for introduction when the 2004 Legislature convenes Jan. 12.
The bill would prohibit state and local agencies from contracting with employers that had been convicted or faced civil sanctions within the previous five years for violating state or federal law on employing illegal immigrants.
In addition, any company, contractor, association or vendor found hiring illegal immigrants could be forced to return any tax breaks or loans received from the state for the previous five years. The Department of Human Resources would administer the new law.
The measure addresses workers who entered the United States illegally, had expired visas or entered the country legally "but without the right to be employed."
Representatives of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Heavy Constructors Assn. said their groups hadn't reviewed the proposal. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' staff also has not reviewed it yet, spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Wednesday.
Will Leiker, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO, welcomed the proposal, saying companies that hire undocumented workers compete unfairly with employers who provide a living wage and benefits to their workers.
Sulma Mercado, of the group Hispanos Unidos in Wichita, said Dillmore's proposal was "a good attempt at resolving something." She estimated that 30,000 to 50,000 undocumented workers and their families live in Kansas.
Mercado said the federal government should grant a general amnesty to those workers already in the United States, "then figure out how to strengthen border security, and make sure Mexico is doing its part, too."