Kelly signs bill spiking Wyandotte County’s adoption of ‘sanctuary’ city policy

AG also rejected county program to welcome undocumented immigrants

By: - April 11, 2022 5:13 pm
Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation Monday that imposed a statewide prohibition on cities or counties creating so-called "sanctuaries" from federal immigration enforcement actions. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation Monday that imposed a statewide prohibition on cities or counties creating so-called “sanctuaries” from federal immigration enforcement actions. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation Monday crafted by Republicans rebuking the Unified Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County for passing an ordinance allowing issuance of identification cards to undocumented residents and affirming the practice of local law enforcement agencies to not participate in federal immigration raids.

The county government’s vote in February for the Safe and Welcoming City Act was aimed at improving public services and quality of life for people living in the most diverse county in the state. It prompted condemnation by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor, and others who asserted the policy amounted to a “sanctuary city” subversion of a law.

Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, said the responsibility for addressing the nation’s “broken immigration system” rested with Congress and couldn’t be resolved at the municipal level. The ban on sanctuary cities contained in the bill applies statewide.

“Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to address immigration issues for decades. We need a national solution and we need it now,” Kelly said.

She signed the bill despite a provision stripping municipalities of the capacity to issue government identification cards for use by veterans, the elderly, people with disabilities as well as undocumented immigrants.

The ordinance had been discussed in Wyandotte County public officials and residents for five years before approved 6-4 by the Unified Government’s commission.

The statute in House Bill 2717 was adopted by the Senate 29-10 on March 30 and by the House 84-38 on March 23. If those margins were held together, the Legislature would have had two-thirds majorities necessary to override Kelly.  The House and Senate is scheduled to reconvene April 25 for a short period to consider the governor’s vetoes and complete work on other legislation.

Schmidt said he objected to the Wyandotte County ordinance because it could be viewed as “a sanctuary jurisdiction for illegal immigrants.” In addition, he said, the potential of cities and counties enacting a patchwork of policy “gag orders” merited passage of a statewide law.

“The veto-proof bipartisan support for this bill in the Legislature demonstrated its importance, as the Biden administration continues its tragic failure to secure our southern border, jeopardizing public safety in our Kansas communities,” the attorney general said.

The bill was written to allow the attorney general, a county attorney or district attorney to bring a court action to compel a municipality or person to comply with provisions of the law.

Local law enforcement leaders in Wyandotte County said they didn’t assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on investigations of undocumented residents. Legal counsel for the Unified Government said the ordinance had a carve-out provision for the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office, because the city-county government didn’t have policy authority over the sheriff’s office.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.