32 Kansas mayors urge immigration reform
WICHITA (AP) — Saying they are deeply concerned, 32 Kansas mayors — including two from southwest Kansas — signed a letter Wednesday urging the state's congressional delegation to support immigration reform efforts that allow their economies to grow and protect the quality of life of their citizens.
The letter, circulated as a joint effort by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm, followed a series of teleconference calls with local elected officials and other immigration reform supporters in Kansas.
"We share the concerns of the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform regarding the need to protect our economy and workforce," the mayors wrote. "The immigrant population of Kansas includes valued members of our community. We are supportive of a solution that allows reasonable access to citizenship while assuring adequate border security."
The mayors also urged Congress to pay close attention to the impact of any immigration reform on local governments, saying any legislation cannot burden local governments with extra law enforcement or administrative burdens.
"This federal problem needs a federal solution paid for with federal resources," they wrote.
They also argued that any legislation should not erode community policing programs that have created an atmosphere of trust between law enforcement and the immigrant population — saying that relationship is essential for maintaining public safety while assimilating the immigrant population into the community.
Syracuse Mayor Joe Stephens and Leoti Mayor Lori Christensen were the two area officials who signed the letter. Garden City Mayor Dan Fankhauser had heard about the letter, but wanted to bring it before the Garden City Commission before committing to it.
Stephens said he heard about the letter through an online Kansas League of Municipalities forum. Syracuse has 1,850 people, and Hamilton County has 2,800 people total. About 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, he estimated.
In reading the letter, Stephens said he agreed with everything it said — that immigrants "... are a valuable part of our community." Many immigrants work for the county's dairies or on farms.
The unemployment rate in Hamilton County runs about 3 percent. Stephens said many of the jobs immigrants hold are those "a lot of our people don't want to do."
"If you go around Syracuse, almost every business in town has posted 'help wanted,' so it's not like we're suffering from ... large uemployment," Stephens said. He added that he knows there are places like Arizona and Texas where people are "flooding over the gates," and some of those are "undesireable."
"We don't experience that in Hamilton County and Syracuse," Stephens said.
Fankhauser said the letter may be on the agenda for the Garden City Commission's upcoming meeting on Tuesday.
"I got a call from the mayor of Wichita ... It sounded like something that we'd probably support," but he said he wanted to bring it before the whole commission first.
The letter is similar to one sent to the congressional delegation earlier this summer by the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform. The group's members include the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas Farm Bureau.
Dale Goter, city of Wichita government relations manager, said the letter was circulated through the Kansas Mayors Association, and not all mayors are a member of that. Goter said mayors Brewer and Boehm were encouraged to set up a conference call among the mayors about the issue and two White House staff members participated.
He said those who have not yet signed on still have a chance. "It's a fluid signing opportunity," Goter said.
Telegram News Editor Ruth Campbell contributed to this story.
List of mayors who signed the letter
Penny Bruckner, Coldwater
Paula L. Schwach, Westwood Hills
Wayne Hidalgo, Lake Quivira
Jerry Wiley, Fairway
Richard T. Boeshaar, Mission Hills
Chris Morrow, Gardner
Jeff Meyers, Shawnee
Barb Shirley, Salina
Carl Gerlach, Overland Park
Michael Boehm, Lenexa
Mark R. Holland, Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City KS
Daniel P. Friesen, Buhler
Terry Somers, Mount Hope
Larry E. Wolgast, Topeka
Dennis Bronson, Stafford
William L Phillipi, Marysville
Ron Wood, Chetopa
Glenn Fischer, Oswego
Quintin Robert, Osage City
Vicki Howell, Belle Plaine
Carl Brewer, Wichita
Mary Olson, Marion
John "Tiny" McTaggart, Edwardsville
Kim Thomas, Stockton
Bart Hettenbach, Woodbine
John F. Ray, Abilene
Herbert Bath, Altamont
Brad Smiley, Canton
Gary W. Fisher, Moundridge
Raymond C. Mader, Russell
Joe Stephens, Syracuse
Lori Christensen, Leoti