Church leaders ask Kansas Legislature to stay out of illegal immigration reform

Bishop Scott Jones, left, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann on Wednesday speak on illegal immigration during news conference at the Capitol. The church leaders endorsed comprehensive federal immigration reform.

? Religious leaders on Wednesday urged the Kansas Legislature to leave immigration reform to the federal government, and they said they supported allowing illegal immigrants to gain some kind of legal status.

Renee Slinkard, who opposes allowing illegal immigrants to attain legal status, attended the news conference.

The Most Rev. Joseph Naumann, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and Bishop Scott Jones, Bishop of the Kansas Area of the United Methodist Church, said the vast majority of illegal immigrants are hard-working, God-loving and family-oriented.

“Our immigration policies are so restrictive. It makes it relatively impossible to legally immigrate to this country,” Naumann said. “There have to be ways to help them achieve legal status here, if not citizenship, perhaps a worker program that will allow them to achieve legal status.”

At the news conference, Naumann and Jones were asked by Renee Slinkard, of the Tea Party Immigration Coalition, why they would want to make it easier for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship “when we are faced with all this terrorism, crime, human trafficking.”

Naumann said that “bad actors” should be deported but that most illegal immigrants have no “ill intent.” He added that many are young people brought here as children who have no connection to any country but the United States.

Slinkard later said illegal immigrants should leave the country and “go to the back of the line to get their citizenship.”

Naumann and Jones, several other Catholic leaders, and Bishop Gerald Mansholt, Bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, signed a paper that asked people to be respectful to each other in debating the issue of illegal immigration.

The paper called for comprehensive reform at the federal level that would include securing the country’s borders and a process allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.

“We hope to shape a more civil conversation,” in Kansas and nationally, Jones said.

Proposals to crack down on illegal immigration are likely to be raised during the legislative session that starts in January.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, has been a national leader in writing controversial legislation aimed at illegal immigration in other states, such as SB 1070 in Arizona and Alabama’s new restrictions.

Naumann and Jones said they hoped to meet with Kobach some time to discuss the issue with him.

Contacted later by the Lawrence Journal-World, Kobach said he had read the document signed by the religious leaders and agreed with the portion that emphasized the importance of the rule of law. “There is a lot of common ground here,” Kobach said, but added that he disagreed with providing “amnesty.”

On Tuesday, the legislative champion of SB 1070 in Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce, was voted out of office.

He was defeated by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis in a recall election that many said was a referendum on SB 1070.

Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said Pearce’s fate should cause state legislators to pause before trying to push through immigration legislation at the state level.

But Kobach said had Pearce faced Lewis in the Republican Party primary, Pearce would have won. And, he said, although Pearce was defeated, many more “pro-enforcement” candidates nationally have won.