Kansas religious leaders join in ecumenical effort on immigrant legislation
by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — The Catholic bishops of Kansas have joined with some leaders of the state’s Protestant churches to urge Kansas legislators to “resist frustration” when drafting legislation dealing with undocumented immigrants.
In their letter, the churchmen ask “Governor Sebelius and our Kansas Legislators to resist the frustration caused by the inactivity of our Federal government and to refuse to react to a fear that seems to focus on people in our State who for the most part are here because they or their parents want to work. We ask them to work for laws that benefit and support all people of our State.” (See sidebar below for full text of letter.)
The Catholic signatories are Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas; Bishop Paul S. Coakley, Diocese of Salina; Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore, Diocese of Dodge City; and Bishop Michael O. Jackels, Diocese of Wichita.
The Protestant signatories are Scott Jones, resident bishop, United Methodist Church, Kansas Area; Bishop Dean E. Wolf, Episcopal Diocese of Kansas; Bishop James M. Adams Jr., Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas; and Bishop Gerald Mansholt, Central States Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The church leaders have united to oppose two bills, both dealing with undocumented immigrants, now under consideration by the Kansas Legislature, said Bea Swoopes, associate director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
The bills, House Bill 2836 and Senate Bill 458, legislate electronic verification of work authorization, with penalties for noncompliance, to ensure that businesses do not hire undocumented immigrants. Both bills are before the federal and state affairs committees of their respective chambers.
The sponsors of the proposed legislation, said Swoopes, claim that the bills are meant “to relieve the burden on Kansas taxpayers of the cost of state services to illegal aliens, to ensure that state and federal immigration laws are enforced, and to assist legal immigrants to assimilate into the Kansas culture and economy.”
Swoopes said that both bills came in reaction to anti-undocumented immigrant legislation in the surrounding states of Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri. Both bills are intended by their sponsors to prevent Kansas becoming a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants.
But both bills, she added, are very punitive.
“[The Kansas bishops] are coming from the standpoint that we need comprehensive immigration reform,” said Swoopes. “The federal government failed to accomplish that, but we need to urge them to continue to work on the immigration problem. With the different states initiating different proposals, there is going to be inconsistency [in our laws]. And it’s going to cause more confusion than what is already there”
“We understand that we do need to secure our borders,” she added. “But we also need to approach [the issue] with compassion and treat the immigrant as a human being with human dignity.”