A federal issue

Federal inaction on illegal immigration is encouraging states to strike out in various directions to try to address this problem on their own.

There appears to be pretty broad consensus in the United States that additional steps are needed to regulate immigration, particularly illegal immigration by our neighbors to the south.

Unfortunately, there is almost no consensus on what those additional steps should be. Whatever that action is, however, it should be a federal policy that is consistent across all of the states.

Frustrated with the lack of federal action on immigration, many states are attempting to tackle the issue on their own. The result of state-by-state action is almost certain to be a mishmash of laws that is difficult to monitor and enforce.

A story in Friday’s Journal-World, for instance, gave a preview of the immigration debate that could occur in the next session of the Kansas Legislature. State Sen. Brenda Landwehr, of Wichita, said she plans to introduce a package of bills on illegal immigration. The measures would impose fines and revoke licenses for businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants. Landwehr also would deny public health benefits to illegal immigrants except in a medical emergency and may seek to revoke a law that allows some illegal immigrant students to pay resident tuition at Kansas universities.

On the other hand, Senate President Steve Morris is urging caution on immigration legislation. Morris, who will be able to exert significant control over the progress of such legislation through the Senate, is mindful of the western Kansas constituency he represents and the labor that area needs to run meat packing and other industries. Morris said he would oppose, for instance, any measure that would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants because of the difficulty employers have in verifying someone’s legal status. The same problems, it seems, also would apply to trying to verify someone’s status before giving them health care.

Landwehr said her proposals are similar to new laws in Oklahoma. If Kansas doesn’t match Oklahoma’s effort, she said, it could see increased pressure from illegal immigrants pushed out of Oklahoma. Kansas certainly isn’t the only state with legislators who fear being left behind to bear an unfair burden from illegal immigration.

The proposals outlined by a few presidential candidates include such measures as building a fence along the Mexican border, sending all illegal immigrants home before allowing some back in and various penalties for businesses with illegal employees. While there seems to be little question that the United States must do more to control its borders and existing laws must be enforced, this is an issue that should be approached with common sense and at least a little compassion for people who are seeking a better life in this country.

Whatever action is taken, immigration policy must be established by the federal government, rather than state by state.