TOPEKA — Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said Tuesday during a talk at Washburn University that the rallying cry over voter fraud is a dog whistle for voter suppression aimed at brown people.
Grissom, who served as U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas from August 2010 until April 2016, delivered the annual Oliver L. Brown Visiting Scholar for Diversity Studies lecture.
In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
"Our world changed, and changed for the better," Grissom said. "But that effort to change continues."
Grissom said the ability to vote is the cornerstone of democracy.
"I think the issues and hurdles that are being put in front of people to discourage them from voting is something that we need to address legislatively and, if necessary, in the courts," he said.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a bill requiring that people registering to vote provide a proof of citizenship document. The ACLU filed a lawsuit, and in June, a federal judge ruled the measure unconstitutional.
"A democracy that doesn't allow its citizens to be active is really not a democracy," Grissom said.
He also condemned the way immigration has been handled, saying it will be seen as "a black mark in American history."
"I challenge any of my brothers and sisters on the other side of this argument — if they lived in a country that was impoverished, that your children were going to be forced into gangs, your daughter was going to be used in human trafficking, there's not a person that wouldn't leave that country for somewhere safe," he said. "That's not rocket science, folks, that's just human nature."
In June, a team of attorneys, including Grissom, helped support migrant children separated at the border from their parents who ended up at a Topeka group home.
"I can't imagine them being ripped from their parents by people that don't speak their language and put up some place where we can't hug one another and we can't talk to one another as brother and sister," said Grissom, a grandfather of two young children. "I love my country, I'm embarrassed by my government — something Mark Twain said."
Grissom said the country needs a more streamlined, effective asylum process, but he doesn't understand "why we have to make things like immigration about us versus them."
As U.S. attorney, Grissom said, he worked on outreach to Hispanic communities, encouraging victims of crimes to report it to police without worrying about their immigration status.
"What makes me sad is those bridges have been burned," he said. "Those folks don't step up now, they just endure whatever they have to endure, which is a travesty."
Grissom also noted changing demographics in the U.S.
"White Americans are going to become a minority of the population in this country," he said. "We have to make sure that when that occurs — not even then, tomorrow — is that that's not a big deal, because we want everyone to be treated the same way under the law — with respect."