By John Celock
Kansas’ secretary of state is planning a new round of legislation for state governments to push back against President Barack Obama’s executive order regarding immigration.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who has worked on illegal immigration for a number of years, is in the process of drafting legislation for Kansas and other states that would declare Obama’s decision unlawful and enact new policies that would cancel out parts of the federal action. Kobach’s move comes two days after a federal judge in western Pennsylvania said parts of Obama’s order were unconstitutional as part of a decision in an unrelated immigration case.
“The legislation recognizes that it is an unlawful executive act,” Kobach told The Celock Report. “It would ensure that driver’s licenses are denied to these illegal immigrants. The bill would declare that employers that may not deduct as a business expense any wages paid to these illegal aliens for the purposes of the state income tax.”
Kobach said that he plans to offer the bill to lawmakers in his home state and is in the process of identifying allies in other states who could offer the bill in their states. He said he could not identify which states could offer the bill during the 2015 legislative session, but he noted that he would like to see a dozen states involved in his push.
“This bill pushes back very hard against the Obama Administration,” Kobach said. “This will say that we are following federal law and the Constitution not the whims and actions of President Obama.”
Last month Obama announced sweeping executive action regarding the nation’s immigration policies, including immigration enforcement for undocumented immigrants living away from the borders and changes to border security along the border with Mexico.
As part of Obama’s plan, the Department of Homeland Security will provide five million undocumented immigrants, who are the parents of citizens or legal residents with quasi-legal status, including the ability to travel internationally, obtain a Social Security number and work in the United States. While the plan would not allow deportations, the group would not receive citizenship or green cards, and the status would be reviewed every three years.
Obama’s plan has been greeted with opposition from Republicans, who have said that it is an unlawful executive action and an overreach by Obama. Opposition to the plan almost derailed federal budget negotiations earlier this month. Obama has defended his actions as legal.
Opponents of past state based actions that could nullify federal decisions have argued that a state cannot nullify a federal law. Kobach said that would not be the case here, since he said Obama’s actions are not part of federal law.
“The state would be taking the position consistent with federal law,” Kobach said. “The state and federal statue are on one side and the Obama executive action is on the other side. It would be the state taking the position that federal law is not consistent with Obama.”
Kobach’s proposal has been greeted with opposition from Kansas state House Minority Leader-elect Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) who said the he believes that Kobach should be focused on state issues, particularly around election administration, which fall under his office.
“The secretary of state should be doing Kansas secretary of state duties around elections,” Burroughs told The Celock Report. “We have questions on elections and how they were conducted. That should be his primary responsibility.”
Burroughs’ argument continues lines used by Democrat Jean Schodorf in her unsuccessful campaign against Kobach this year. Schodorf, a former state senator, had accused Kobach of mismanaging the state’s election process, noting that 20,000 potential voters are waiting for final confirmation of their voter registration until they provide proof of citizenship. Schodorf also attacked Kobach’s immigration work, saying he was not focused on the secretary of state’s office.
Kobach has defended his record in office, noting that his office has provided assistance in accessing proof of citizenship for voter registration. He has also defended his immigration work, saying that he does the work at nights and on weekends as a hobby, in lieu of playing golf.
Burroughs also said that the state should not be meddling in federal affairs.
“The state should be dealing with state issues,” he said. ”The federal government has the ability to address the issues of president.”
State Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) told The Celock Report that while he has not reviewed the details of Kobach’s draft legislation he would be in support of the legislation. He said that a ban on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants is needed and that state governments should be working to oppose Obama’s executive action.
“Once you have a tipping point of states that would get on board with similar legislation it would in effect cancel out the executive actions,” he said.
Hildabrand noted that he would see several nearby states joining forces with Kansas, citing both Texas and Oklahoma as examples.
Kobach’s push comes, as Kansas lawmakers are preparing to see a repeat of a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. State Rep. Ponka-We Victors (D-Wichita) has announced plans to refile a bill next year that originally failed in 2013. Earlier this week, Victors received the backing of the Wichita City Council for her legislation. Currently 10 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Kobach said that while it is “a little early to tell” he believes his bill has a “decent shot” of passing in Kansas. In terms of other states, Kobach declined to speculate but said that the political dynamics of several could make it a bill that is easy to pass.
He said that while he does not believe a pushback from the states would cause Obama to change his actions it will send a clear signal to Washington.
“The purpose is not to get the Obama Administration to change. It would be wonderful if it got the Obama Administration to back down and say it’s illegal,” Kobach said. “But the President does not back down and say what he’s done is unconstitutional or illegal. I am not naïve. But I think it will affect what Congress does. When Congress sees the states pushing back against the lawless actions of the executive it will encourage Congress as well.”