Topeka Opposing sides in the debate over illegal immigration agree on one thing: When the 2013 Kansas Legislature convenes in January, there will be renewed attempts to tackle the politically explosive issue.
“There will be some action taken on immigration,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has become a national figure in passing laws in various states that crack down on illegal immigration.
“We don’t know what kind of crazy thing he (Kobach) is going to throw at us,” said Sulma Arias, who is executive director of Sunflower Community Action, a Wichita-based nonprofit organization.
While Kobach has succeeded in pushing aggressive measures in states such as Arizona and Alabama, he has not been successful in his home state.
Last year, strict measures against illegal immigration stalled in the Kansas Legislature. Neither Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, nor House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, seemed interested in the legislation.
But Morris was defeated in the Republican Party primary, and O’Neal is leaving the House to run the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
A more conservative brand of Republican politics is taking over the Senate and has already settled in the House.
Still, Arias sees a difference in attitude on illegal immigration issues between Kobach and Gov. Sam Brownback, who are both Republicans. In the early 2000s, she said, Brownback was a moderate on the issue. Now, she said of Brownback, “He is not working against us, but he is not working for us.”
In 2007, Brownback, then a U.S. senator, was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students brought to the United States as children the chance to earn legal status. But as he was leaving the Senate after his election as governor, Brownback voted against the bill.
Last session, Brownback said the Legislature should leave illegal immigration to the federal government.
“I think it’s primarily a federal issue,” Brownback said.
And in 2011, he indicated he wasn’t interested in a bill the House had passed to repeal the less expensive in-state tuition for some undocumented students. The bill died in the Senate.
But Kobach thinks the votes are there now in the Senate to approve such a measure. “That is a perfect example of a bill that will probably still pass the Kansas House today and probably get a favorable vote in the Senate,” Kobach said.
Under current law, students are considered Kansas residents eligible for in-state tuition if they graduated from a Kansas high school or received a GED, have lived in the state for three years and pledge to become citizens.
The Kansas Board of Regents said approximately 400 students are enrolled under the law at state universities, community colleges and technical colleges.
Supporters of the federal DREAM Act say the recent presidential election, in which President Barack Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, shows that Republicans need to do a better job of courting Latino voters, and that Kobach’s positions are no longer popular.
Kobach was an informal adviser on immigration issues to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney backed so-called “self-deportation,” a term used by Kobach to describe the departure of undocumented workers because of tough immigration enforcement laws.
Recently, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said, “Self-deportation being pushed by Mitt Romney hurt our chances. We’re in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration, and candidate Romney, in the primary, dug the hole deeper.”
But Kobach doesn’t buy that argument. Independent voters heavily favor enforcing immigration laws, he said. Kobach suggested that had Romney changed his position and supported the DREAM Act, he may have won some Latino votes, but he would have lost a larger number of independent votes.