Opposition to a proposed Kansas law targeting illegal immigrants is moving beyond Hispanic groups to include statewide business associations.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Building Industry Association are among 30 business groups working as a coalition to oppose such measures.
"We believe that the illegal immigration issue can only be truly solved at the federal level," said Jeff Glendening, vice president for political affairs with the Kansas Chamber. "Kansas businesses should not be penalized for following federal immigration guidelines."
But lawmakers, including Rep. Brenda Landwehr, who is among the authors of bills targeting illegal immigrants, said states have to act.
"When is it good public policy to reward illegal behavior?" Landwehr asked.
"It boils down to the federal government ignored this issue and states have decided to take it upon ourselves to act," she said. "According to the U.S. Constitution, we have sovereignty."
Meeting in Topeka
Landwehr is among lawmakers who will meet with constituents Wednesday in Topeka to discuss illegal immigration and other proposals. The activities are being coordinated by the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs and African-American Affairs Commission, and will feature an address by Julie Chavez Rodriguez, granddaughter of the late Mexican activist Cesar Chavez.
Landwehr is one of several lawmakers whose proposals would support, among other things, tougher penalties for illegal immigrants who attempt to vote or collect public welfare benefits. The proposals also would withhold state contracts and other benefits from organizations and businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Landwehr said Friday that her bill is still waiting to be assigned a number. Others are waiting to be heard in committees.
Backers said Kansas could attract more illegal immigrants if state legislators don't act.
"Kansas hasn't been declared a sanctuary state, but it will be," said Ed Hayes, Kansas and Missouri director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and a supporter of anti-illegal-immigration proposals.
Fear among Hispanics
Community groups, including the local Spanish-language Azteca America affiliate, are mobilizing against such proposals.
Pablo Estrada, a station producer, called the 2008 session "crucial." The television station, he said, is combining forces with Hispanic media outlets statewide to denounce such legislation.
"I think I owe it to my family to take a position on it," said Estrada, who said he has relatives who immigrated illegally but have since become legal.
"The hardest and saddest impact it's going to have is that feeling of divisiveness, and that will do more harm than the law itself," said Sulma Arias, an American Family Insurance agent and former board member for Sunflower Community Action. "That's what scares me."
Arias said she was among a group who met with Landwehr in the past month to talk about her proposal.
Among her clients, she said, she's already hearing talk of people preparing to move because of possible legislation.
"It's sad to see these people be so scared," Arias said."... The impact is dramatic. People have no idea what it does to a human being. Even when this is just happening in Oklahoma, people who were already in Kansas were thinking about moving now. That's how drastic it could be."
Legislation making it illegal to transport and offer shelter to illegal immigrants, among other provisions, went into effect in Oklahoma last year.
Beatriz Ledezma, who plans to travel to the Capitol, said she thinks even legal immigrants could move out of fear or because their family members could be affected.
"They didn't expect that in Oklahoma," she said. "They didn't think about those family connections."
Arias understands where Landwehr is coming from in wanting to confront illegal immigration, but she also thinks "we need a lot more open dialogue, and we need to educate each other," she said.
Arias said she thinks state proposals will duplicate federal laws, which should be better enforced.
But Hayes, a proponent of the bills, said, "The federal government swore... that they would stop any invasion, and they're not doing what they swore to do."
Legislators should step up, Hayes said.
"Some of our legislators are aware of what's going to happen to Kansas if they don't do something, and others are resisting because of business, which is resisting," Hayes said. "They better look at the big picture instead of the short term."
Landwehr said there should be consequences for illegal behavior.
"When you come into this country illegally, you shouldn't be rewarded for that," she said. "There should be consequences for that.
"People, over the years, have lost their lives to give us the freedoms and rights we have here, and you don't take those lightly and they're not free."
Landwehr said it's also a matter of trying to prevent identity theft.
"Talk about something that's devastating and that's to have your identify stolen," Landwehr said. "It takes forever to get that back."
Impacts on business
Several business groups said they're pleased that the legislators are willing to consider their perspectives as the bills make their way through committees and hearings.
"Foreign-born workers are important in the construction industry, as well as a number of other industries in Kansas," said Chris Wilson, executive director of the Kansas Building Industry Association.
Such workers account for 4 percent of the state's construction work force, Wilson said.
The Oklahoma law resulted in workers, legal and illegal, choosing to leave the state and causing many construction projects to go uncompleted, Wilson and others said.
"We don't want to see something passed that would create the same kind of result in Kansas," Wilson said.
Wess Galyon of the Wichita Area Builders Association said his group is closely monitoring the proposals but hasn't taken an official position.
"I can appreciate the fact that legislators want to protect citizenry -- I don't think anyone has a problem with that," he said. "The question is, how do you do it with the federal government absent?
"You create a patchwork of solutions that's fraught with conflicts between what one state passed and what another state passed."
The Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission said business groups are seeking their input.
The commission said it supports Rep. Nile Dillmore's request for an audit of illegal immigration's impact on the state. The audit would include the cost of social services to illegal immigrants, illegal immigration's impact on job availability and wages, and the economic impact of pending or proposed measures.
The request has not yet been processed by the Legislative Division of Post Audit, according to the office.