Immigration experts meeting at KU criticize Kobach’s laws

Immigration experts on Thursday criticized laws in Alabama and Arizona that were co-authored by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. But Kobach said the controversial anti-illegal immigration measures were working.

“People are self-deporting,” Kobach said. “People are picking up and leaving.”

But Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said the Arizona and Alabama laws were resulting in police racial profiling.

Alberto Cardenas Jr., an immigration attorney from Houston, said having individual states adopt immigration laws was counterproductive to forming a rational federal law.

“The solution has to come at the federal level,” Cardenas said. He added, “We have to look at this issue as a human one.”

Jeanette Hernandez Prenger of Kansas City, Mo., and vice chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said some of the consequences of the new Alabama law would be higher food prices because farmers in Alabama were having trouble finding people to harvest crops.

Their comments came during the Immigration and the Kansas Economy conference sponsored by the Kansas University Institute for Policy and Social Research and held at the Union.

Kobach, a Republican elected secretary of state last year, has been a national leader in writing tough anti-illegal immigration laws in various states and cities.

He helped write the controversial SB 1070 in Arizona and, more recently, the law cracking down on illegal immigration in Alabama.

Hispanic advocates and some business groups have said the Alabama law is causing panic and many undocumented workers are fleeing the state. The American Subcontractors Association said even legal workers are leaving because they may have a family member in the country illegally.

Last month, a federal judge upheld parts of the law that authorizes police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. Other provisions require public schools to determine the legal residency of children.

Kobach said the law is working as planned. “You are encouraging people to comply with the law,” he said. He said he has heard that U.S. citizens are lining up for jobs at an Alabama meat-packing plant where illegal workers are leaving.

Kobach argued that illegal immigrants are a drain on the national economy because of the welfare and education services they use.

But Cardenas and Johnson said the United States needs immigrants and if all undocumented workers left, the economy would fall into a tailspin. Cardenas noted that when a meat-packing plant in southwest Kansas was destroyed by fire several years ago, it was local leaders — not immigrants — who pleaded with the company to rebuild.

Earlier in the conference, James Hawkins, chief of the Garden City Police Department, said if Kansas adopted a law, similar to the ones in Alabama and Arizona that require police to check on immigration status, it would hurt his officers’ ability to enforce the law.

“It would really confound local law enforcement,” he said.

Garden City is home to several large immigrant groups and Hawkins said police work hard to communicate with them and gain their trust in order to investigate crimes.

Kobach disagreed with Hawkins and said it was possible that an Arizona- or Alabama-type law would be considered next year by the Kansas Legislature.