Attorney general’s cynical ploy to end Safe and Welcoming ordinances will hurt Kansas families

March 30, 2022 2:00 pm

Attorney General Derek Schmidt observes the Kansas Supreme Court chief justice’s state of the judiciary speech on Jan. 11, 2022, in the House chamber at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Judy Ancel is president of the Kansas City-based Cross Border Network and a retired labor educator.

In October, the League of Kansas Municipalities celebrated 60 years since Kansans amended the state’s constitution to give our cities home rule.

Home rule, the league wrote, “allows local officials the flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing world. … Uniform state laws don’t always serve the diverse needs of our communities, and Home Rule allows many of those decisions to be made by local officials elected by the people.”

Wyandotte County and its unified government fit this profile. It is the most diverse community in Kansas. We are a majority minority community: 30% Hispanic and 23% African American. We’re about 16% immigrant, with an estimated 14,000 undocumented. We are indeed different from much of Kansas, and many legislators don’t know us or our unique needs shaped by diversity.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt thinks a one-size-fits-all approach to public safety, government and community should be enforced, overriding what the people of Wyandotte County know is best for our community. He has written a bill — HB 2717 — to preempt the Safe and Welcoming City Act that we passed Feb. 10.

We presume he thinks he’ll boost his political fortunes by stirring up debunked fears of immigrants and voter fraud, but he does so at the expense of home rule and the needs of his fellow Kansans.

For five years, our community has pushed for the Safe and Welcoming ordinance. We worked with the police, district attorney and city attorneys to make it fit our needs. All welcomed a municipal ID card needed by the houseless, ex-offenders, people who lost their identification, those who never had a birth certificate, the elderly who no longer drive and others who simply don’t have the resources to produce documents needed for state ID.

The act also limits police and city employee cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to instances in which ICE presents a warrant signed by a judge or where public safety is at risk. In no way does the ordinance stop the police from fighting crime. Note that unlawful presence in the United States is a civil violation.

If the attorney general were truly interested in law enforcement, as his title implies, he would support the Safe and Welcoming Act as a crime fighting tool.

– Judy Ancel

Why is this necessary? Because many immigrants are afraid to call the police to report a crime for fear of deportation. Women suffer domestic violence in silence, victims of car theft and even of violent crimes say nothing, and perpetrators continue to commit crimes.

If the attorney general were truly interested in law enforcement, as his title implies, he would support the Safe and Welcoming Act as a crime fighting tool.

Instead, Schmidt aims his fire at Wyandotte County. He did nothing when Roeland Park passed a similar ordinance in December 2020, or when Lawrence adopted ICE noncompliance, so why now go after Wyandotte County? Is he trying to draw attention away from the Legislature’s failure to give us grocery tax relief, or is it a more sinister attempt to divide Kansans by sowing fear and mistrust?

The bill won’t just affect Wyandotte County, though. There will be substantial collateral damage if it passes. A number of Kansas cities have municipal photo IDs. HB 2717 changes the rules on what ID registered voters can use to identify themselves at the polls. Because many citizens lack photo IDs, HB 2717 has turned itself into another voter suppression bill by barring municipal IDs at polling places.

Some Kansas cities have policies that limit police interaction with ICE. HB 2717’s requirement that “a municipality shall not limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws” will eliminate policies aimed at encouraging police to build relations of trust with all residents so they can concentrate on the job for which they are trained: protecting residents and nurturing safe communities.

Police and sheriffs are not trained or funded to understand and enforce immigration law. In fact, often when they try to do so, the city gets sued for false imprisonment.

A quick look at Kansas today shows us that HB 2717, with its one-size-fits-all preemption, is a bad and hastily written piece of political opportunism. Even worse, passage will slap an Unsafe and Unwelcome sign on Kansas. Families that include immigrants, documented or not, will leave and certainly not come here. They know that despite the bill’s tacked-on nondiscrimination amendment, it will inflame racial profiling.

How will this affect our state’s economy, which so depends on farm, livestock and meat packing labor? How will it affect employers who are desperate for workers? How will it affect our rural communities, which are losing population as youth leave?  Why would Kansas not welcome families who bring both hard workers and families with children to our small towns?

It’s time our legislators celebrate our diversity and support a Safe and Welcoming Kansas.

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Judy Ancel
Judy Ancel

Judy Ancel is president of the Cross Border Network, a Kansas City-based organization that supports human rights in Latin America and exposes how U.S. foreign policy drives the dislocation and migration of poor people. The Cross Border Network supports workers across borders and who cross borders. She is a retired labor educator who directed the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s labor education program for 29 years, and she still produces the Heartland Labor Forum at 6 p.m. Thursdays on Kansas City Community Radio, 90.1 FM, kkfi.org.