The Garden City Telegram
2/3/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Ugly Agenda — Anti-immigrant proposals still emerging in Kansas

Should the state start counting and reporting the number of children in public schools who may be living in the country illegally? Add your comments at the end of the online version of this editorial at GCTelegram.com/opinion.

In a state where plenty of lawmakers harbor anti-immigrant sentiment, it was no surprise to hear yet another disturbing proposal out of Topeka.

Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Republican from Grandview Plaza, recently introduced a bill that would require a school board to ask for "proof of lawful presence" when a child enrolls for the first time in a public school. The proof would be a birth certificate, Social Security card or other document.

The focus would be on children brought into the country by parents who are here illegally.

Rothlisberg wants to know how much taxpayer money is spent to educate the children.

"I would prefer we spend tax dollars on citizens and not on illegal aliens," he said.

He may prefer as much, but should know that in 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court held that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free, public K-12 education. The high court rightly acknowledged how long-range costs of keeping any children out of public schools could outweigh the expense of educating them.

Rothlisberg's unwelcome pitch was another example of how Kansas attracts unwanted, negative attention due to ill-conceived strategies to target immigrants.

Consider the unnecessary Voter ID and proof-of-citizenship laws enacted to ward off supposed voter fraud — as if immigrants here illegally are rushing to polling places to vote.

We also have state lawmakers trying to repeal a good law that allows children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend college after graduating from high school, so long as they work toward citizenship.

A state that for generations has depended on the contributions of immigrants — those here legally and otherwise — does indeed benefit from efforts of Kansans without legal status who attend public schools and become productive members of society.

Screening of Kansas schoolchildren, meanwhile, is no more than an ugly tactic designed to frighten the immigrant community and compel families to flee the state, as well as yet another way to pander to the anti-immigrant crowd.

Sadly, it's what we've come to expect from Republican extremists determined to pursue policies that would do more harm than good.