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Kansas Governor Kelly signs ‘sanctuary city’ bill, dealing harsh blow to immigration activists

Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service

The Democratic governor signed the Republican-backed bill acknowledging that veterans, the elderly and people with disabilities will be adversely affected. She called on the Legislature to lobby the state's Congressional delegation to pass comprehensive immigration reform and allow the state to focus on state and local issues.

Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signed a Republican-backed bill on Monday that will thwart hard-fought efforts by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, to issue municipal IDs to residents unable to get legal photo IDs.

The UG's "Safe and Welcoming Act," which would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain municipal IDs, faced backlash from the state GOP.

Passed by the UG in February, the act also blocked local police from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities except in the case of threats to public safety or a warrant signed by a judge.

Kelly, who is up for re-election in November, said in a statement that she signed the statute because it is the responsibility of federal officials, not municipalities, to address our broken immigration system.

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

The law originated with Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who objected to the UG ordinance, saying Wyandotte County would become a "sanctuary jurisdiction for illegal immigrants,” and calling on the Legislature to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

Schmidt, who is expected to be the Republican candidate facing Kelly in November, suggested in a statement that she had little choice but to sign the bill.

"The veto-proof bipartisan support for this bill in the Legislature demonstrated its importance," he said. "Under this new law, Kansas law enforcement will be able to resume working professionally with federal immigration authorities ... and not be silenced by a patchwork of local sanctuary city gag orders."

Laura Ziegler

The push to pass Safe and Welcoming lasted five years, with vocal protests occurring throughout three different mayoral administrations.

Supporters of the act have said that proof of identity is required for many essential activities, including health care, job applications, enrolling children in school and cashing a check.

Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner noted that immigrants were only one group the municipal ID assisted. It helped other vulnerable residents, including those experiencing homelessness, formerly incarcerated people, kids aging out of the foster system and many elderly people.

“Residents here in Wyandotte County, no matter where they're from, no matter who they are need to feel safe and protected by law enforcement when they seek services,” Garner said.

Karla Juarez, Executive Director of the Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, had been optimistic that the governor would veto the bill. She was dejected when she got the news.

"Oh boy, I don't know what our next steps will be," she said.

Juarez said Kelly's signature on the bill sends a destructive message to communities about engagement.

"Government is for the people," she said. "The message today is, even if they get involved, the government won't listen. It sure seemed that way through this process."

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Laura Ziegler began her career at KCUR as a reporter more than 20 years ago. She became the news director in the mid 1980's and in 1988, went to National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. as a producer for Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.