Popular immigration topic missing in Kansas bill

? Like the majority of other states considering immigration legislation this year, Kansas started out with local law enforcement playing a big role.

But talk of adding sheriffs and police to immigration enforcement faded as the legislation was altered. It’s mostly because lawmakers long have been loath to intrude into what is seen as the province of city and county governments.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said Thursday that the issue of local control more than anything else cut into efforts to enlarge law enforcement’s role in dealing with the rising tide of illegal immigrants.

“One of the reasons why in Kansas you’d presume that there’s not an effort to make the local sheriff, to force the local sheriff, to do that – although a lot them are voluntarily doing that – is the fierce propensity we have for local control,” said the Ingalls Republican.

When legislators began their spring break April 4, they left up in the air an immigration bill worked out by House and Senate negotiators. The House wouldn’t agree to a routine move allowing the compromise to move toward a vote, but it could take another run at it when legislators return Wednesday to wrap up the session.

If the House relents and the compromise is approved, it moves to the Senate, which is expected to send it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. If the House blocks the bill, it goes back to negotiators and could die unless something else is developed to satisfy both chambers.

In taking on the issue, legislators said constituents were upset over the number of illegal immigrants in Kansas – estimated at 90,000 – and Congress not dealing with the issue.

A National Conference of State Legislatures study released Thursday showed immigration a key concern in most states. It said that through the end of March, 984 bills and 122 resolutions were introduced in 44 states.

So far, 26 states have enacted 44 laws related to immigration, dealing with such topics as education, public benefits and employment. At this time last year, 18 states had enacted 57 laws, and by year’s end, 46 states had enacted 240 laws.

Thirty-five states, including Kansas, introduced 198 bills this year dealing with law enforcement, more than for any other topic.

They included such proposals as having law officers enforce immigration laws, requiring officers to determine a person’s citizenship when arrested and establishing bail guidelines for illegal immigrants.

When the session started, law enforcement was a key part of House and Senate measures. But the proposals were dropped as the debate continued.

The dropped ideas included having officers trained to enforce immigration laws, preventing local governments from prohibiting their police agencies from doing immigration enforcement and threatening law enforcement agencies with losing state funds for not enforcing immigration laws.

Another dropped plan was to have officers question anybody detained or arrested about whether they were in the country legally. That was narrowed to only those arrested and, eventually, the idea was dropped altogether.

Ed Klumpp, Kansas Police Chiefs Association executive director, said checking a person’s immigration status had a major drawback. “You can determine if they are in the country illegally, but just because they aren’t in the system doesn’t mean they are in country legally,” he said.

Initially, there were requirements for illegal immigrants who are arrested to face specific bail amounts, ranging from $10,000 for certain misdemeanors to no bail for the most serious felonies.

At the urging of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association, negotiators rewrote the bill to allow judges to consider all factors in deciding whether mandatory high bail was appropriate. The association feared that not giving judges discretion could increase jail space problems and costs for counties.

The negotiated version also has an array of crimes, including knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant, human trafficking, coercing employees and exploiting illegal immigrants.

It also says illegal immigrants convicted of serious felonies such as murder, rape, kidnapping or drugs aren’t eligible for a suspended sentence, conditional release, community service or probation.