Kobach-supported immigration bills probably stalled, Kansas leaders say

After four days of emotional hearings, legislative leaders said several proposed immigration bills supported by Secretary of State Kris Kobach are probably dead.

“I don’t sense the support in the Senate for that kind of legislation,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said, “I don’t have a burning desire to address immigration this year.”

O’Neal said he doesn’t want to pass a law that guarantees putting the state in litigation “just for political expediency so somebody can have a good vote.”

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the more people learn about the effects of similar Kobach laws in Arizona and Alabama “the more people shy away from the direction he wants to go.”

Kobach was a leading force in passage of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona, which would require police check the legal status of anyone they have stopped and suspect may be an illegal immigrant. That part of the law is being challenged in court.

He also helped pass a law in Alabama that goes further by requiring public schools determine the citizenship status of students and making it a crime to knowingly rent housing to an illegal immigrant.

Kobach has urged approval of similar bills in Kansas. “Unless Kansas acts, we will become the No. 1 destination for illegal aliens in the Midwest,” he said.

Several business and religious leaders lined up in opposition. They said the bills would lead to racial profiling, and make the state less safe because undocumented workers would be unwilling to volunteer information to police about crime activity for fear they would be deported.

Morris, however, said there is quite a bit of support for a bill that would allow some undocumented workers to apply for a legal status that would allow them to work in Kansas industries facing labor shortages.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and Davis said they believed if the Legislature does approve any immigration related bill, it will be a measure that would require use of the federal database E-Verify to check on the citizenship status of government employees and contractors.

O’Neal said the complexities of illegal immigration make it difficult to come up with a consensus. “What may work in eastern Kansas,” he said, “may not work in western Kansas.”