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AG-backed bill prohibiting ‘sanctuary cities’ brings heavy opposition to Kansas Statehouse

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TOPEKA — Lawmakers are wrangling with legislation backed by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to prohibit municipal governments from adopting rules that block cooperation with federal authorities investigating illegal immigration.

Schmidt initiated the push for a ban on “sanctuary cities” in response to action by the Unified Government of Kansas City/Wyandotte County to authorize the issuance of photo identification cards to undocumented people to improve access to public services. The Safe and Welcoming City Act was structured so the ID information wouldn’t be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Opponents of the legislation outnumbered supporters 64-7 during a hearing Tuesday in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, lead coordinator for the New Frontiers Project, a group in southwest Kansas working to empower people of color, described his family history with immigration and the importance of having communities where immigrants can feel safe.

Rangel-Lopez said that while proponents may claim the bill does not target those who immigrated legally, many people with mixed-status families would suffer.

“It should be clear to you now that this is not a game. The choices you make as a legislator have very real impacts on the lives of people like me and my family,” Rangel-Lopez said. “Listen to us when we tell you this will have insidious effects on crime reporting in immigrant communities. Listen to us when we tell you that your decisions don’t exist in a vacuum.”

Under House Bill 2717, local units of government would be unable to adopt any “ordinance, resolution, rule or policy” that would interfere with law enforcement cooperation in immigration enforcement actions. In Wyandotte County, law enforcement officials said they hadn’t joined ICE agents on immigration raids for years.

As of 2021, 12 states have enacted state-level laws prohibiting or restricting sanctuary jurisdictions. The Kansas Legislature has considered legislation to prohibit sanctuary cities across the state on several occasions, but none has passed.

Schmidt, a Republican candidate for governor, said Kansas required such a law to ensure the entire state can be safe and welcoming to immigrants.

“That worthy goal cannot be properly accomplished through a patchwork process of local jurisdictions deciding to prohibit their local law enforcement agencies from cooperating or even communicating with federal authorities, nor can that be accomplished by issuing to non-citizens new local-government identification cards that lack basic anti-fraud and anti-abuse safeguards built into state law,” Schmidt said.

The measure also would forbid municipal governments from issuing ID cards to people not lawfully residing in the United States that were designed to satisfy identification requirements set in state law. Any of these cards would read “Not valid for state ID.”

Violating the proposed statute would be considered ID fraud under state criminal law.

While the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office supported the bill, a representative of the office urged legislators to address a potential conflict between state laws on the use of ID cards that could result in voter confusion and litigation.

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“It is the firm position of the Kansas Secretary of State that only United States citizens may vote in an election,” said Clay Barker, deputy assistant secretary of state. “Requiring voter identification to cast a ballot ensures the protection of voters’ rights and the integrity of the electoral process.”

Opponents of the bill said it was late in session to be passing such significant legislation.

Aileen Berquist, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said proponents were narrow sighted in their approach as the bill would not only instill fear but undermine local authority to make the best decisions for their communities. She said it would also force an unfunded mandate on municipal governments by forcing them to engage in potentially unconstitutional immigration enforcement activities.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers are not arrest warrants, Berquist said, but instead are notifications to local law enforcement that ICE intends to assume custody of an individual.

“Courts have repeatedly found that ICE detainers deny due process and do not comply with the fundamental protections required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Berquist said. “Multiple courts have held that the Fourth Amendment does not permit state or local officers — who generally lack civil immigration enforcement authority — to imprison people based on ICE detainers alone. But that is precisely what (the bill) demands that cities and counties do.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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