Overland Park As a rally featuring an Arizona sheriff and Kansas Secretary of State candidate Kris Kobach ended, Overland Park police evacuated the hotel where it was being held after a suspicious package was found at the scene, according to witnesses and local media reports.
Nearly 2,000 Kansas Republicans gathered in Overland Park to hear Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday night before the package was found around 8 p.m. The evacuation began about 9 p.m.
Authorities secured the package on scene about 9:15 p.m., according to emergency responders. Several area streets were shut down during the investigation and as Overland Park bomb squad technicians disabled the device with a water cannon.
Arpaio is known for his tough stance on illegal immigration. During the rally he told the crowd that Arizona needs its new immigration law because the federal government isn't doing its job.
"You can have all the laws on the book, but have to enforce the laws on the books," he said, adding that law enforcement in Arizona is under political pressure to look the other way when it comes to illegal immigrants.
"I want someone to say if you jump the fence, you go to jail. No one will say that," he added.
Arpaio said he was stumping for Kobach "to make sure a good guy is elected."
Kobach helped write the Arizona law that directs officers to question people who have been stopped for another crime about their immigration status if there's a reasonable suspicion they're in the U.S. illegally.
"This should send a very clear message, a message that people in Washington don't seem to get," Kobach said. "Illegal means illegal."
The law has sparked national debate and drawn numerous legal challenges. The U.S. Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit to block the law from taking effect July 29.
If elected, Kobach has promised to seek changes to Kansas law that he believes will keep illegal immigrants from voting. Critics fear Kobach's proposals would discourage minorities from voting. His remarks Tuesday, however, focused on immigration laws and the need for enforcement and little about his own campaign.
The rally attracted members of the tea party movement, as well as representatives of other conservative Republicans on the Kansas ballot in August.
It also drew several hundred protesters, including representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is holding its convention in Kansas City. Earlier Tuesday, the civil rights organization accused tea party activists of tolerating bigotry and approved a resolution condemning racism within the political movement.
"The saying is: first the Jews, then the Mexicans, what's next?" said Maureen Salz, a retired teacher from Overland Park. "I'm Jewish. I take this very personally when we single out a segment of society."
Those attending the rally said they're concerned crime along the U.S. border with Mexico will spill further north.
Jeannette Auerbach, an Olathe teacher, said criticism about potential racial profiling is outweighed by the need to protect public safety.
"It is a shouting match back and forth and pointing of fingers," she said. "If there is a problem, what is your solution? I see (the Arizona law) as being part of the solution. A huge part of it."
Kobach, a former state Republican Party chairman, is among three Republicans and two Democrats running for secretary of state, the top elections job in Kansas. He faces Shawnee County elections commissioner Elizabeth Ensley and Salina resident J.R. Claeys in the GOP primary Aug. 3. Incumbent Secretary of State Chris Biggs is being challenged by state Sen. Chris Steineger for the Democratic nomination.