G.C. still mulling support of immigration reform bill
By SCOTT AUST
Garden City Commissioners held off this week on supporting a federal immigration reform proposal that passed the U.S. Senate in late June and is waiting to be considered by the House.
Last week, 32 Kansas mayors signed a letter urging the state's congressional delegation to support immigration reform. Mayor Dan Fankhauser said he was contacted by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer about the letter, and his understanding is that the idea is to find out how much support there is in Kansas for immigration reform.
Fankhauser brought the letter, and copies of the Senate bill, to the rest of the commission this week. The commission decided to hold off taking action until members have some time to read the bill.
"I thought it was an important issue that definitely affects Garden City and southwest Kansas. I didn't want to go ahead and sign the letter without bringing it to the commission, even though I felt pretty strongly about it," Fankhauser said.
At the end of June, the Senate passed the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013," sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight senators including the likes of Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). It has not yet been considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Generally, the bill covers everything from border enforcement to reforming immigration, including providing a mechanism for providing a path to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The bill is divided into four parts, or titles, that cover border security; legalization and legal immigration including a Registered Provisional Immigrant program; interior enforcement that mandates an E-Verify electronic employment verification system, due process and worker protections; and proposes reforms to non-immigrant visa programs.
Highlights of the border plan includes appropriating $3 billion toward developing a comprehensive border security strategy and southern border fencing strategy. The border strategy must be in place before the registration period begins for a legalization program that would allow immigrants who entered the country before Dec. 31, 2011 to apply for provisional immigrant status.
To be eligible for provisional status, those immigrants must pass a background check, not been convicted of a serious crime, pay any tax liability and pay a $500 fine. After 10 years, immigrants could apply for a change in status under additional terms and conditions. The total time it would take to gain full citizenship under the bill is about 13 years.
Fankhauser said the bill covers both the border protection side, and provides a way for people to become citizens. It provides a way for immigrants to get a work permit, identification, a driver's license and insurance, and also includes some things that will take some effort to obtain full citizenship.
"So it's not a free ride. They do have to go through these steps," he said. "It's not like you're handing them a free pass. There's some work involved in it. I think it's a step in the right direction."
Sister Janice Thome, of the Dominican Sisterhood in Garden City, supports the proposal and hopes the city commission will also support it for humanitarian and moral reasons.
"As a faith community person, I would be behind this. For me, it's a human issue. All of us, unless you are Native American, are descendants of immigrants who came here and only had to prove they weren't contagious. Nobody put them in jail," Thome said.
Garden City Police Chief James Hawkins also supports immigration reform and urged the commission to sign the letter of support. Hawkins said he has travelled to Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and Kansas City in the past year in support of similar legislation.
"It gives (immigrants) identification. It gives us an opportunity to determine whether or not they should be driving or have insurance," he said. "With a community that's over 50 percent minority, and many who are undocumented but are productive members of the community, I would urge support of it as well. That seems to be a pragmatic point of view from law enforcement."
The city commission has consistently supported immigration reform and providing a pathway to citizenship to benefit the local and area workforce in the legislative policy documents it prepares each year for state and federal representatives, according to Matt Allen, city manager.
While not advocating a direction for the commission to sign or not sign the support letter, Allen admitted endorsement of the federal reform bill by the entire local governing body would give a different weight to lobbying efforts in support of existing legislative policies.
"Absent that, our position to people is the city of Garden City supports and has supported for several years as an item in its legislative policy, immigration solutions that create a pathway to citizenship and allows for the workforce that fuels our economy. It's up to everybody else to figure out what that means," he said.
Fankhauser isn't sure what impact the city's endorsement might have on lawmakers, but said it sure won't hurt anything. So far, Fankhauser hasn't received much public input about the issue, though that very likely could be because people haven't heard enough about it yet to have formed an opinion.
"It seemed pretty reasonable to me. I think it's what we should do. Obviously, what we're doing now isn't working," he said.
The city commission hasn't set a timetable for acting on the letter of support. It next meets on Sept. 3.
More information about the bill is available online through the Immigration Policy Center, a non-partisan group involved in research and policy issues on immigration, at www.immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/guide-s744-understanding-2013-senate-immigration-bill.