Kansas wants to officialize English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Jan 24 15:15:19 UTC 2007

 Posted on Tue, Jan. 23, 2007

Kan. legislators looking at ways to deal with illegal immigrants

CARL MANNING Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. - Over time many Kansans have become increasingly frustrated
at the federal government's inability to control the nation's borders as
illegal immigrants, especially from Mexico, cross over and fan out across
the country. That frustration from voters led many legislators this year
to offer proposals dealing with immigration issues, including making
English the state's official language and cracking down on employers who
hire illegal workers. But some lawmakers acknowledge there's only so much
they can do because it's largely a federal issue.

"Immigration was the No. 1 issue in my district," House Majority Leader
Ray Merrick said. "The frustration is the federal government isn't doing
anything and the voters want us to do something." Melinda Lewis, policy
and research director for El Centro Inc., a Hispanic advocacy group in the
Kansas City area, agreed Tuesday the frustration factor is there. "We have
a broken immigration system. In immigration, if you're not frustrated,
you're not paying attention," Lewis said as she directed some 100 people
brought to the Statehouse by El Centro to talk to legislators. "We're
trying to bring members of the Legislature to the point of common
knowledge. There's a lot of misinformation about newcomers to the state,"
she said.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the state's population of 2.6
million, doubling in number from 1990 to 2000. Census Bureau estimates for
2005 put Hispanics at 8.4 percent of the population. Last year, 84 bills
about immigration were enacted in 32 states, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures. The NCSL ranks immigration as the No. 1
policy issue among the nation's legislators this year. Immigration issues
gained momentum, particularly among Republicans who control the
Legislature, after the Sept. 11 attacks, said Bob Beatty, Washburn
University political scientist.

"Once it became linked to security, it's an issue to didn't go away. The
mixture of security and law and order made it a bedrock issue for many
Republicans," he said. In Kansas, House leaders want to make English the
state's official language, following the lead of some two dozen other
states. Among other things, the proposal says no state or local government
agency shall be required to issue written materials in any other language
except English. "We've made it too easy for people not to learn the
English language,"  said Merrick, R-Stilwell. "There's no incentive to
learn English. If you're going to live here, you need to learn the

Maria Torres, of Salina, one of the El Centro group, said she opposes the
legislation. "It's kind of silly when we are a land of immigrants," Torres
said. "We should welcome the immigrants as well as their beliefs and the
language they speak." The official language idea also has detractors among
legislators. "If you want to affirm that English is the obvious language
of Kansas, that ranks right up there with naming the Western Meadowlark
the state bird. If you want to forbid bilingual, that's just silly," said
Sen. Pete Brungardt, who heads a task force studying immigration issues.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley noted the state's first Legislature
in 1861 ordered 2,500 copies of the governor's address printed, including
500 copies in German.

"Even then, we recognized that English only wasn't the appropriate
policy," said Hensley, D-Topeka. He said the key issue is employment,
noting the state already has a law banning the hiring of illegal
immigrants but with a small penalty. "We need to crack down on
unscrupulous employers who decide to employ illegal immigrants," Hensley
said. "The employment of illegal immigrants is the root cause we need to
address." No one has introduced a bill to deal with employment. Lewis
noted that federal law restricts what states can do about employers hiring
illegal immigrants, although legislators still could ban such employers
from receiving state contracts.

While agreeing that states are limited, Brungardt, R-Salina, said: "That
hasn't stopped some states from enacting laws." When it comes to employer
sanctions, legislators find themselves walking a fine political line,
Beatty said. "You can have measures to make life more difficult for
illegal aliens, like English only, but really the heart of the matter is
companies that hire them," he said. "Then you have to come up with a
solution that won't drive away business, and nobody wants to do that."
There are also plans to require Kansans to present photo identification
when they register to vote or go to the polls and require proof of
citizenship for those wanting state services such as health care.

But some lawmakers are concerned about unintended consequences. "We
already prohibit undocumented immigrants from these benefits," Lewis said.
"It's going to hurt the citizens who can't find their documents."

El Centro: http://www.elcentroinc.com



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