Kobach says Kan. has 'green light' on immigration

June 26, 2012
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach stops to answer questions from The Associated Press about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an Arizona law aimed at cracking down on immigration, Monday, June 25, 2012, in Topeka, Kan. Kobach, a former law professor, helped draft the Arizona law. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday on illegal immigration gives legislators in his home state a "green light" for a crackdown, but his fellow Republicans still aren't all behind him.

Kobach, a former law professor who's advised officials across the nation on get-tough policies on immigration, said he's pleased with the high court's ruling on an Arizona law he helped draft two years ago, even though the justices struck down three of the four provisions under attack. The justices kept in place a provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other reasons if officers have a reasonable suspicion they're in the U.S. illegally.

Kobach called the "show me your papers" provision the "core" of the Arizona law and said Kansas legislators can pursue a similar measure. He also noted that the Supreme Court ruling didn't touch on issues that the state's lawmakers have discussed, such as requiring government contractors or other businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to check the status of new employees.

"If Kansas wanted to take the two strongest steps, which would be an E-Verify requirement for the whole state and an arrest requirement like Arizona's that we saw reviewed today, they have a green light to do so," Kobach told The Associated Press in an interview.

But Kobach's opponents in Kansas scoffed at his description of the high court ruling as a victory and said it's likely to hinder any effort to enact proposals favored by Kobach. They noted that while the court spared the provision directing police to check people's immigration status, the justices didn't preclude legal challenges later when the law is more fully interpreted by Arizona's courts.

"I don't see how under any interpretation you can say this is a green light," said Gary Brunk, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, adding that states should move with "great caution" in considering "copycat laws."

Kobach was a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who advocated laws such as Arizona's for years before his successful run for secretary of state as a Republican in 2010. But his allies in the Kansas Legislature have been bedeviled by a split among GOP lawmakers and resistance from the business community.

This year, the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a key constituency for conservative Republicans, joined an unsuccessful push for a state program to place some illegal immigrants in jobs if the state declares that an industry has a labor shortage. It has the backing of agriculture groups, but Kobach described it as an amnesty proposal.

Allie Devine, a Topeka attorney and former state agriculture secretary who lobbies for business owners on immigration policy, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling recognized that the federal government has broad discretion in deciding which illegal immigrants to deport — suggesting to her the law would allow such a jobs program in Kansas.

Also, the Legislature is likely to have plenty of new members next year. All 40 state Senate and 125 state House seats are on the ballot in November, and new political boundaries set earlier this month by three federal judges are likely to result in significant turnover.

"The biggest change that we'll have is dependent upon the outcome of the elections and the direction the new Legislature wants to send Kansas," Devine said.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, a conservative Olathe Republican and a Kobach ally, said he expects to continue the push next year for initiatives like a "show me your papers" law and an E-Verify requirement for businesses, though he hasn't settled on the details of a package.

He noted that provisions of the Arizona law struck down by the high court, such as one making it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work, haven't been considered seriously in Kansas.

"The last couple of rounds of court opinions haven't really changed the debate," Kinzer said.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna