Topeka State legislators on Monday started a week-long debate on immigration policy ranging from allowing undocumented workers to stay in Kansas to measures aimed at chasing them away.
First up was a bill endorsed by business and religious groups that would allow undocumented workers who had no criminal record and who had been working in Kansas at least five years to apply for a legal status that would allow them to work in Kansas industries facing labor shortages.
Rep. Reynaldo Mesa, R-Garden City, told the House Federal and State Affairs Committee that House Bill 2712 would help the agricultural economy in southwest Kansas and keep workers’ families together.
“I challenge my colleagues to put the politics of this issue aside, and truly analyze this bill on its merits,” Mesa said.
But several committee members questioned whether businesses that hired workers under the proposed program could face penalties from the federal government.
Chairman Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, asked why would workers “self-identify” to seek legal status if the federal policy could change and place them in jeopardy of deportation.
Testimony also spilled into bills that will be heard later this week that seek to crack down on illegal immigration.
House Bill 2578 is similar to laws approved in Arizona and Alabama that would require law enforcement to check citizenship status of people who are detained and a “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien.”
House Bill 2576 would establish criminal penalties for harboring illegal immigrants. Bishop Scott Jones of the United Methodist Church said the proposal could turn him into a criminal for preaching to people who may be undocumented.
“Please don’t send me or my preachers to jail for our obedience to Christ,” he said.