Topeka Two days of debate in the Kansas Legislature showed the wide range of opinion and emotion on the issue of illegal immigration both in the Capitol and across the state as e-mails flooded the inboxes of legislators.
Many of the e-mails accused lawmakers of supporting bills that were too weak, some calling legislators traitors and idiots and referring to some as "Amigo Senator."
Most legislators took the e-mails in stride; some said it bothered them, but all expected to be questioned about their stance on illegal immigration when they face the voters later this year.
Some legislators say illegal immigration is the most important issue confronting American society.
Hordes of undocumented immigrants are taking jobs, breaking laws, depressing wages, draining tax dollars and threatening the country's security, they say.
"Citizens of the state are demanding we do something because they are frightened," said Sen. Peggy Palmer, R-Augusta.
On the opposite end are legislators who say the issue of illegal immigration has been drummed up to stir up the public and detract from more important problems.
They say the nation has been reinvented by immigration, that immigration laws are out of sync with the need for workers, and the majority of illegal immigrants are hard-working, tax-paying, family-oriented people.
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said some members of his family came to the United States illegally to escape poverty and better themselves. He said the U.S. should "create a legal path for those who want to come and live the American dream."
But most lawmakers seemed to be somewhere in-between those views.
They say they want to respond to concern about illegal immigration but point out that the federal government is in charge of the laws that determine who gets to come to the United States.
In addition, they say they want to punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, but they don't want to set traps for businesses that may make mistakes.
And they want to make sure illegal immigrants aren't taking advantage of the state welfare system, but they don't want to deny anyone needed services, nor pass laws that hassle people who are citizens.
So far, major business organizations have been able to douse most proposed penalties that they didn't like. And attempts have failed to repeal a law that allows the children of some undocumented immigrants to pay the lower in-state tuition at higher education institutions, if they establish residency and work toward citizenship.
Both the House and Senate have adopted bills, and now the issue will go to a conference committee for negotiations.
Both bills have provisions that would punish businesses that repeatedly knowingly hire illegal immigrants with fines and possible contempt of court sanctions that could include prison time. But majorities in both chambers rejected provisions to shut down businesses that repeatedly knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The bills also increase penalties for using false IDs to get employment.
Opponents of these bills say the proposals are much weaker than earlier versions, providing phony immigration reform to give legislators political cover. But supporters of the bills approved by the House and Senate say they are reasonable and balanced approaches to a complex problem.
The Senate immigration bill is Senate sub for SB458. The House immigration bill is Senate sub for HB 329.