Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses a packed house Friday evening at the Depot. L&T photo/
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
A capacity crowd filled the Rock Island Depot Friday night to listen to some of Kansas recently elected officials, and questions from the audience touched on some of the key issues facing the state.
One question and answer brought resounding laughter from the group when newly elected Secretary of State Kris Kobach was asked if President Barack Obama was a citizen.
Off the cuff, Kobach lightheartedly responded, “If he moves to Kansas and wants to vote, we will find out.”
Kobach was referring to existing legislation that he has presented that would make Kansas a leader in voter verification.
Kobach discussed his three-pronged bill that would be a model for the nation if the Legislature passes the bill and Governor Sam Brownback signs it.
The first of the three requirements for those seeking to register to vote will require proof of citizenship. The second was a photo I.D. The final part of the bill includes stiffer laws for those committing voter fraud and upgrading the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“It’ high time we do this in Kansas,” Kobach said. “Some will say, ‘It’s too much of a hassle.’ But I agree with Reagan. He said, ‘Trust but verify.’”
Kansas was not free of voter fraud. According to Kobach, 54 non-citizens registered to vote in 2009 and at least four of them did.
“You might not think that’s a big deal. But what if it was your district in a close race?”
Voter fraud eroded the public’s trust in democracy, and Kobach wanted to ensure that whoever is awarded a public office was legitimately elected to that post by those who had a right to vote.
With the growing focus on political issues nationwide, Kobach said passing this legislation was critical.
“Something big is going on,” he said. “People are pushing back. There are going to be some close elections in 2012, 2014. We want to know if our candidates win or lose fair and square.”
Kobach shared that groups like ACORN may have registered as many as 400,000 illegally in the 2008 elections nationwide.
As the chief election officer of the state, Kobach made voter fraud a central issue in his campaign in 2010 and easily won election as Secretary of State.
Kobach: Looking out for our own comes first
Liberal has become a minority majority city, in most part due to heavy Hispanic immigration.
With newly elected Secretary of State Kris Kobach in town for “A Night of Politics” at the Rock Island Depot, a capacity crowd had plenty of questions for Kobach dealing with immigration policy.
Kobach was instrumental in formulating the controversial law that was passed in Arizona and also worked for former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Kobach has been featured on news talk shows including cable television’s highest rated program, “The O’Reilly Factor.”
With Liberal’s school district data showing a 70 percent Hispanic student body in the heartland of America, several questions were presented to Kobach on the issue of immigration and its effect on Kansas.
One attendee asked about the Dream Act which would allow illegal immigrants access to a college education at the same rate as in-state students as well as providing a path to citizenship.
“The Dream Act has been proposed every year since 2001,” Kobach said. “What is amounts to is a medium-sized amnesty.”
The theory behind the Dream Act is to take the most sympathetic group of illegal immigrants — those who came as children by illegal immigrant parents — and grant them special privileges and a path to citizenship.
But Kobach said the Dream Act would rescind an existing law that already makes it unlawful to provide illegal immigrants with in-state tuition and other benefits, something that 10 states, including Kansas, are already violating federal law.
“The Dream Act would let those 10 states off the hook,” he said. “And it still rewards illegal behavior. These immigrants may have been children, but when they turn 18, they are responsible for their own behavior. At 18, they have an obligation to return to their home country.”
And then they can get in line with the four to six million other immigrants who are legally seeking entry into the United States.
“If you have a friend who wants to be a citizen tell them to get on the legal track and get in line,” Kobach said. “Once they become legal, one day they might become a citizen. U.S. citizenship is valuable. Millions are standing in line to get it. We can’t reward someone who cut in line.”
Kobach presented data that stated illegal immigrants, on average, receive $19,700 per year in social service benefits, and that having an open border and a welfare state are incompatible and unsustainable.
“You can have one or the other, or neither, but you can’t have both,” he said.
Providing in-state tuition to an illegal immigrant when a large number of citizens cannot afford a college didn't seem fair to Kobach.
“About two-thirds of our college students graduate with debt,” he said. “Some can’t afford to attend at all. And yet we are giving the goodies to others. And someone will say, ‘But he’s a nice kid.’ There are nice kids everywhere. But if I was a nice guy in another country and asking them to pay for my education, it’s not going to happen. At some point a country has to look out for its own citizens first.”
E-verify led to self-imposed deporting in Ariz.
With federal enforcement of illegal immigration all but non-existent, newly elected Secretary of State Kris Kobach discussed the E-verify system that can help minimize opportunities for illegal immigrants to unlawfully gain employment.
According to Kobach, who addressed a capacity crowd at the Rock Island Depot Friday evening as part of the “Night of Politics” event that was organized by Republican Party Chairman Reid Petty and co-sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and the Leader & Times, states can only suspend a businesses license for hiring illegal immigrants.
“Under federal law, states cannot impose a penalty under than suspending a business license,” he said.
When Arizona began to enforce E-verify, which is a system that allows employers to check the legal status of a prospective employee, something started to happen that was unexpected.
“When the law took effect in Arizona in 2008, they started seeing self-imposed deportation,” Kobach said.
When illegal immigrants began to leave Arizona, state officials were contacted by leaders in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.
“When Arizona’s law encouraged Mexican nationals to head back home, Sonoran officials met with Arizona officials and told them that they didn’t like the law. It was causing the schools in Mexico to become overcrowded, and the social services were being overwhelmed. When it became too hard to break the law in Arizona, they started going back home.”
There was some concern on the impact on the Kansas economy, specifically that in Southwest Kansas where meat packing plants hire a number of migrant workers.
“This was the same concern shared in Arizona,” Kobach said. “But their economy is humming. The claim is that the sky will fall, but that just isn’t the case.”
Martinez: I voted for Kobach because of citizenship
Tony Martinez, a fourth generation railroad worker, sat in the front row at the Rock Island Depot Friday night to listen to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and other recently elected officials discuss the issues facing Kansas during “A Night of Politics,” an event co-sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and the Leader & Times.
“My great granddad came here to work on the railroad,” Martinez said to Kobach. “I’m a fourth-generation Kansan. But my great-grandfather came here to be a citizen. We learned English. I wanted to let you know I voted for you because I support what you are doing in Arizona and here.”
Kobach explained that the story of the Martinez family was the true immigration story of America.
“At some point, we can all say that we came from somewhere,” Kobach said. “You come to America to become an American, and you cut the ties. That’s what made America great.”
That exceptionalism was the foundation for American society for two centuries according to Kobach. But that mantra has been sidelined for a different message today.
“The new wave of immigration is different,” Kobach said. “They are being told that being an American is bad, that we shouldn’t impose our American values on them. Fifty years ago, Americans would have said, ‘Are you crazy?’”
There was a national ethos that permeated American society until recently, and that credo included a notion of self reliance, equality before the law and Christian values, according to Kobach.
“If you wanted to be one of us, you adopted this creed,” he said. “These values were passed on in our school system. But we no longer push the American creed. Back then, immigrants weren’t going back, but with technology you are only a cell phone call or an e-mail away from anywhere, and the American culture is not telling them to become American. We succeeded by that creed. Now we are asking ourselves, who are we?”