The Garden City Telegram
1/8/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Labor issue

All state lawmakers should acknowledge local challenges.

When it comes to immigration-related strategies, local lawmakers should avoid political pressures and support policies best for their region and all of its residents.

A Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce that serves local business interests recently discussed with local lawmakers the importance of immigrants and their daily contributions to the economic well-being of southwest Kansas.

In acknowledging local labor challenges, the Chamber's 2014 legislative agenda calls for immigration-related solutions that allow access to work permits and/or citizenship, while assuring adequate border security — a comprehensive immigration-reform strategy that makes sense.

One lingering concern for western Kansas, meanwhile, would be continued efforts in the Kansas Legislature to repeal a good law that lets undocumented students pay in-state tuition to attend college in Kansas.

During the recent discussion with Chamber representatives, Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, shared a story of a local resident who had lived in Garden City since the age of 3, yet still faced the prospect of paying much higher, out-of-state college tuition — a situation faced by many other long-time residents.

In 2004, the Legislature rightly decided any student who graduated from a Kansas high school and had lived in the state for at least three years qualified for in-state tuition, so long as they worked toward citizenship.

Repealing the law would be counterproductive, as Doll noted. "If we want an educated workforce ... we're going to discourage them from going to school?"

Instead of revisiting the in-state tuition law, lawmakers in the state should strive to better understand economic realities and labor challenges for agriculture and other employers in western Kansas.

As they begin the next legislative session, local lawmakers will encounter the usual range of sentiments related to immigration, from representatives of urban districts who view immigrants as a drain on society, to those in rural districts who understand the need for such immigration-related policies as allowing ag-related businesses to hire undocumented immigrants for jobs they have trouble filling.

Let's hope our representatives help their legislative peers understand the economic impact of immigrant labor, and how important educational opportunities are for all high school graduates hoping to make positive contributions.