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Kansas Immigration Proposals Spark Cries Of Hypocrisy From Democrats

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his 2012 State of the State address in January.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback delivers his 2012 State of the State address in January.

Democrats in Kansas are describing new proposals to recruit undocumented workers for the state's agriculture industry as "hypocrisy" and "profiteering."

Their opposition surrounds proposals from the state Department of Agriculture and the state's business community to make it easier for agricultural-related businesses to recruit undocumented workers to fill positions that advocates say are hard to fill with American citizens. These latest proposals follow rules passed by Gov. San Brownback (R) that prohibit minor American citizens who are the children of undocumented immigrants from receiving food stamps, and assistance from the Kansas secretary of state to Arizona and Alabama in writing controversial immigration legislation.

"The people who will end up supporting this in the Legislature are the people who are against immigration," said state Rep. Mike Slattery (D-Mission). "This is profiteering."

The proposals that Slattery and his fellow Democrats are opposing include a measure being pushed by the Business Coalition, an advocacy group of business organizations and the state's Chamber of Commerce. The measure would allow for the state to support undocumented immigrants seeking permission from the federal government to work in Kansas. The state would also create pools of workers to staff agriculture industries in the western part of the state.

Former State Agriculture Secretary Allie Devine, who represents the Business Coalition, said such a measure would help fill agriculture industry jobs in the half of the state that has less unemployment than other parts of Kansas. Kansas Department of Agriculture statistics have the state's total unemployment rate at 6.5 percent, while the western half is at 4.4 percent. Devine said it has been tough for agriculture-related businesses to recruit workers.

"Being in the middle of the country, we need workers," she said.

The Business Coalition proposal comes days after current Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said he met with federal homeland security officials about seeking a waiver for the state's agriculture industry in terms of undocumented workers. Rodman's spokeswoman, Chelsea Good, said that the waiver idea came about from Rodman's desire to fill agriculture-related jobs.

Good said that Rodman has not received feedback from the federal government on the waiver request, and said that the agriculture department has not taken a stand on the Business Coalition bill. Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) have both come out against the coalition bill. Members of the Business Coalition have traditionally been aligned with Republicans in Kansas. Devine, who represents the coalition, was agriculture secretary in the cabinet of former Gov. Bill Graves (R).

Kansas has had a long history with immigration-related bans, with Kobach working with Arizona and Alabama officials on their legislation. Proposals in Kansas similar to those states' laws failed after a Republican state legislator proposed shooting immigrants from helicopters. The state also regularly considers legislation regarding banning in-state tuition at state colleges for undocumented immigrants who have graduated from Kansas high schools.

Devine said that the Business Coalition has not taken a position on the food stamp legislation already passed in Kansas or other related measures, noting that they have primarily been handled by other groups. She said the group is focused primarily on economic-related issues.

Slattery, the chief Democrat on the House economic development committee, said he and other party members are looking at fairness, noting that state policy prohibits workers compensation for undocumented immigrants. He also said creation of "living wage jobs" for residents was on the Democrats' agenda for year.

"It is the greatest degree of hypocrisy I've seen on this issue," Slattery said. "We want to pay you minimum wage and we will not even give food stamps to your kids, even if they are U.S. citizens."

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