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Kansas welcoming undocumented workers?

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Kansas welcoming undocumented workers?

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has helped guide Arizona’s nationally recognized campaign against illegal immigration, might be taking some comfort these days from John 4:44, which notes that “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Why? Major business groups in Kobach’s own state want to allow undocumented immigrants to work in dairies, feedlots, landscaping, construction and other industries facing labor shortages.

The groups, which include the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, say the program would be limited to illegal immigrants who’ve been in the United States at least five years, have no felony record and are learning English, according to newspaper reports. Kobach has —understandably — blasted the initiative as an “amnesty” program backed by employers seeking to depress wages and who are out of touch with Kansas voters.

After briefly savoring the irony here, we might note that Kobach is not entirely wrong. For better or worse, the program does sound like “amnesty.” More importantly, it trains a spotlight on the fundamental issue driving the entire illegal-immigration debate: cheap labor. True, the controversy is a complex one, also touching upon other critical issues such as human rights, electoral politics, xenophobia and racism. But in the end, it appears to be all about wage levels and profit margins.

It’s tougher to assess the sentiments of Kansas voters — and, by extension, those of the rest of the national electorate. On one hand, Kansas in October reduced or denied food stamps to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. On the other, Kobach, who helped father Arizona’s famous Senate Bill 1070, has been unable to get a similar bill through the Kansas legislature. And a Kansas senate committee recently killed a bill that would have denied in-state tuition at post-secondary schools for children of undocumented immigrants.

Is it possible that many or most Americans actually hold conflicting feelings about illegal immigration and would favor some sort of compromise? The answer is not likely to come from Kansas — or Arizona — given that the Obama administration is opposing all individual state solutions, such as Utah’s. But there do seem to be some strong crosscurrents running out there among the electorate. Kobach’s chief Arizona ally and "prophet," ousted Senate President Russell Pearce, may be evidence of that.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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immigration, kansas, kris kobach, sb1070

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