Topeka — After having failed to adopt immigration legislation this year, lawmakers are hoping a study will help them reach consensus next year.
"Before we decide on fiscal policies that affect our economy, shouldn't we have some idea on what we are doing and what the outcomes might be if we make those changes?" asked state Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita.
Dillmore inserted into the state budget bill a measure that calls for the Legislative Division of Post Audit to conduct an audit that attempts to determine the costs of illegal immigration in Kansas. The report is expected to be completed during the next legislative session, which starts in January.
The audit will try to determine the costs to the state of Kansas for benefits and services provided to illegal immigrants, the estimated tax revenues from illegal immigrants, and whether the taxes they pay offset the costs of benefits provided.
And finally, the audit will study the effect that illegal immigration has on labor costs and the job market in Kansas.
Jonathan Blazer, a public benefits policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said contrary to popular opinion, many studies had shown that undocumented workers had a positive effect on the economy.
"There is still this myth that is fueling this debate that immigrants are a drain as opposed to an asset," Blazer said.
He said undocumented workers pay more in taxes into the economy than they derive in benefits.
Some studies, he said, show that they may depress wages in certain labor markets. But, he said, the solution to that is to provide them a way to attain citizenship so that they are not exploited by unscrupulous employers.
He said it was important for states to tread cautiously when trying to enact immigration laws.
In Oklahoma, for example, an anti-illegal immigration law that took effect last year will cause $1.8 billion in economic losses, according to a study done by the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
The losses will be incurred because of thousands of workers leaving the state, the study said.
Legislation in Kansas failed after intense lobbying from business groups that said the proposals would have placed too much responsibility on businesses to determine whether employees were illegal immigrants. They fought sanctions against employers hiring illegal immigrants and a requirement that employers use the federal E-Verify database to check the status of workers being hired.
But Dillmore said the business associations simply wanted to avoid responsibility.
"Their attitude was, this is not their problem," he said.