Topeka A coalition of business groups will propose Kansas start a new program to help some illegal immigrants remain in the state so they can hold down jobs in agriculture and other industries with labor shortages, coalition representatives disclosed Tuesday.
The proposal is likely to stir controversy in the Legislature and divide the Republican majority, some of whose members have argued Kansas needs to crack down on illegal immigration. Representatives of the business coalition, which includes agriculture groups and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, provided a draft copy of their proposed legislation to The Associated Press ahead of its formal introduction in the House and Senate.
The coalition spelled out details of its proposals only days after state Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said he would seek a waiver from the federal government to help agribusinesses. But the coalition's representatives said their proposal would make such a step unnecessary.
Instead, the new program proposed by the groups would create a pool of immigrant workers businesses could tap after the state certifies a labor shortage in their industries. The state would support individual workers' requests from the federal government for authorization to continue working in the U.S., despite not being able to document that they are in the country legally.
"The key is, these are people that are in Kansas," said Allie Devine, a Topeka attorney and former state agriculture secretary who lobbies for business owners on immigration policy. "We're asking to keep those people here, let them remain and let them work."
But the proposal is not part of Brownback's legislative agenda, and he's not supporting it, spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said. Asked about Rodman's earlier comments, Jones-Sontag said, "You need to talk to him." A spokeswoman for Rodman did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment or an interview.
State Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican who's pushing proposals to crack down on illegal immigration, called the business groups' plan "amnesty" for such immigrants. He said the state — working with Democratic President Barack Obama's administration — would give legal status to immigrants "by fiat" despite their being in the U.S. illegally.
"It should make some people mad," Kinzer said. "A proposal like that, I think, is unlikely to make it through the legislative process."
The proposed program would be for illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. at leave five years and have committed no more than one misdemeanor, aside from traffic infractions. The immigrant also would have to agree to work toward English proficiency. Essentially, coalition members said, the federal government would make their deportation a low priority while they continue to work in the U.S.
Businesses would have to pay a fee of up to $5,000, plus an additional $200 for each worker, to tap the labor pool, and they'd have to agree to follow federal labor standards. Money raised by the fees would go to community groups to help finance English lessons, immunizations and other services.
The proposal comes months after the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services enacted a new policy Oct. 1 that reduced or denied food stamps benefits to hundreds of U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Legislators also are pursuing several proposals to crack down on illegal immigration.
Kansas' secretary of state, Kris Kobach, a Republican and a former law professor, is known for advising officials in other states about cracking down on illegal immigration. He helped draft tough laws in Arizona and Alabama.