Brad Cooper, The Kansas City Star, July 21, 2004
Kansas is nowhere near the border, but immigration control is a dominant issue in the Republican primary for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.
Driving the issue is Kris Kobach, who has billed himself as the most conservative candidate in the race. A former counsel on immigration to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kobach has used immigration to separate himself from his rivals, Kansas Rep. Patricia Lightner and Adam Taff.
He has mailed ads to more than 30,000 households in the 3rd District suggesting that Taff and Lightner want to reward undocumented immigrants and put national security at risk.
Lightner and Taff have fired back. Lightner has called Kobach “anti-immigration.” She said Kobach is using the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to justify stopping all immigration.
Taff, meanwhile, has criticized Kobach for allying himself with what Taff describes as radical anti-immigration groups.
“I think he has willingly associated himself with groups that could easily be called extremist,” Taff said. Any conservative in the 3rd District “would be shocked knowing that these groups are supporting Kobach and he’s willingly accepting their support.”
Kobach on Monday joined with the Federation for American Immigration Reform to sue Kansas over a law that gives in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
The Taff campaign said the group, known as FAIR, has been “under heavy fire” for receiving money from a New York-based organization that has financed research in the controversial science of eugenics, which seeks to improve the human race by selecting parents based on their hereditary traits.
But Ira Mehlman, FAIR spokesman, said the organization hasn’t taken money from that organization for more than a decade.
Kobach, who is getting paid by the organization to try the case, said: “People have claimed that the organization — FAIR — is somehow holding views that are somehow not palatable in the American political system. I think it’s just blatantly unfair.
“My personal involvement in this has nothing to do with FAIR’s history. I’m simply suing to enforce the federal statutory rights.”
As the issue has played out in the local congressional race, the three candidates have agreed on little except that more troops need to be put on the border to control immigration.
The three candidates have been split on President Bush’s plan to give undocumented workers a chance to temporarily legalize their status with guest-worker visas as long as they have a job. The guest visas would last three years.
Taff and Lightner have supported Bush’s plan. Kobach has opposed it, saying his opponents want amnesty for immigrants who are already here illegally.
Lightner argues that Bush’s plan will help identify undocumented immigrants by bringing them “out of the shadows” and making them a vital part of the economy. She disputes the notion that Bush’s plan is any kind of amnesty.
Taff, too, said Bush’s plan is a step toward knowing more about undocumented immigrants and getting the country’s arms around the immigration problem. He said the program does not guarantee citizenship for the immigrants given guest visas.
“This is not any sort of permanent amnesty. This is not a free ride,” Taff said. “To me, it is a sober, cogent attempt to deal with the situation.”
There is also a sharp division among the candidates over national and state legislation that, like the Kansas law that Kobach filed suit over Monday, allows young undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities.
The federal law, called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would give young undocumented immigrants a chance to earn citizenship in the United States. It also strikes a provision of federal law discouraging states from making in-state tuition available to undocumented immigrants.
Now pending in Congress, the so-called DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for conditional residency for six years if they are under the age of 16 when they enter the country and if they have lived in the United States for five years, have graduated from high school and have no criminal record.
During that six-year period, they can earn the right to stay here permanently if they serve in the military, earn an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, or get a trade-school diploma.
Kobach has criticized Bush’s guest-visa program and the DREAM Act, saying they reward undocumented immigrants and grant them amnesty after they’re already here.
“Amnesty is basically anything that gives someone who is currently here illegally a legal status,” Kobach said.
Taff has said he supports the tuition provision of the law, because it allows states to decide whether they want to give in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. He generally supports the rest of the law, but said the six-year conditional residency period should be shortened.
Lightner said she supports the DREAM Act because it gives children “who are here through no fault of their own a chance to better themselves.”
Kobach also has ripped into has criticized Lightner for her vote in the state Legislature supporting the tuition law he is challenging in court.
Lightner said the bill does not grant in-state tuition to every undocumented immigrant. She points out that they must spend at least three years at a Kansas high school, graduate or obtain a general education certificate. They also must sign an affidavit stating that they are in the process of or are planning plan to obtain U.S. citizenship.
The bill, Lightner said, should help make young immigrants a more productive member more productive members of the society.
“If we deny these children that opportunity then we’re just dooming them and dooming the state to having to support them,’’ Lightner said.