By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
As part of ongoing efforts of the Southwest Kansas Coalition, the City of Liberal has been working in conjuntion with Dodge City and Garden City to make services through United States Citizen and Immigration Services available in Southwest Kansas. USCIS is the government agency overseeing lawful immigration to the U.S.
All three cities have been involved in a rotation basis and the first round of this USCIS pilot program was in Dodge City in June and Liberal’s turn in this rotation was supposed to occur in September but through recent discussions, the city found out it will need to be moved to near the end of October, when shop will be set up for two weeks.
It was approximately four years ago when one of the goals of the Southwest Kansas Coalition had come into discussion of being able to do something like this, according to Chris Ford, director of finance for the City of Liberal.
“It’s taken basically with the lead of Dodge City and their city manager, who has spent countless hours on this and through our quarterly meetings and annual meetings in Washington and whatnot,” Ford said. “We’ve been constantly pushing for this, and it just recently came about just a few short months ago something such as this could actually be possible.”
The city’s hope will be to continue this rotation, which would make it easier for those in Southwest Kansas in need of their services to use them in this area as opposed to driving to regional centers in Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City or Dallas. The long-term goal is to have a permanent location in Southwest Kansas.
“What our idea was is they would rotate between Dodge City, Liberal and Garden City once per quarter and then through working together and partnering together through the communities – we would all love to see a permanent location in Southwest Kansas, be it anywhere in any of the three communities rather than needing to go to Wichita or Kansas City or OKC or Dallas,” Ford said. “It would be much easier to be within a couple hours’ drive for the things they need to do without going to the regional centers.”
During the two-week period of USCIS being in Liberal, the center will be working on an appointment-only basis. Ford said the city would be providing more of a support services type of service and as the project develops, the city will be looking at office space, office furnishings and other necessities.
“Eventually, we may be looking for interpreters and that type of thing,” Ford said. “I imagine as this develops, we will come up with a plan to put out a call for some volunteers or hiring of assistants or whatever it is we’ll need.”
However, the project is still rather in the infancy stages, with ideas and goals still being discussed. Ford said the city is stil excited to be having such a service in Southwest Kansas.
“I know the commission is pleased to pour immigration assistance to be able to bring it to our area locally, to be able to help individuals, so they’re very pleased,” Ford said. “And as staff, we’re very pleased we can assist and actually bring a formal plan for funding of the project and have it come to life.”