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Despite Anxiety Over Trump's Policies In 2020, Immigrants Continue To Put Down Roots In Kansas City

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
Arem Mohammed, center, worked in Iraq as a translator for the U.S. government before immigrating to America. He became a citizen in 2018 in Kansas City.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

The debate over immigration has been dominated by the Trump administration’s hardline policies. Meanwhile, there are immigrant communities in the Kansas City area whose stories often go unheard amid the surrounding noise.

In the metropolitan area, 75% of the immigrant population consists of U.S. citizens or legal residents. And up to 20% of the area's undocumented immigrants may qualify for two-year deportation reprieves under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA.

Nearly a third of the area’s immigrant population hails from Mexico, but the area’s overall immigrant population is diverse. After Mexico, the next largest groups come from China, Vietnam, India and the Philippines. In the year ahead, we’ll continue to follow how the Trump administration's policies affect immigrants, while also exploring stories related to education, politics, entrepreneurship and culture in international communities throughout our metro.


Kansas City is home to some 135,000 immigrants, or approximately 7 percent of the overall population.  Over the last decade and a half, the metro's immigrant population has increased 300%, which is more than seven times the metro's population growth overall. 

Immigrants in the Kansas City metro contribute in all sectors of our community - whether as CEOs, university leaders, artists or teachers.


  • Municpal ID Cards. Advocates hope that Wyandotte County will be the first place in the metro to issue official identification cards. These IDs could benefit thousands of residents, especially immigrants, senior citizens and homeless people, providing access to schools, health care and banks. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, is expected to take up the issue in January or February. Some fear this move could label Kansas City, Kansas, as a "sanctuary city." 
  • Deportations. The mere threat of deportation has driven some unauthorized immigrants and their family members underground, often leaving them afraid to cooperate with law enforcement, unwilling to go to the hospital and even fearful of attending school. Data shows that immigration arrests have decreased nationwide under the Trump administration, though the number of deportations have risen. Expect those fears to ratchet up in a presidential election year.
  • Immigration court backlogs. An ever-growing backlog of cases in the immigration court in Kansas City has put pressure on judges to rule on cases quickly and to postpone immigration hearings for months and even years. Conversely, immigration lawyers say they are hard-pressed to adequately prepare clients. Many families appear in immigration court without any legal representation at all. Those trends are likely to continue in 2020.
  • Temporary Protected Status. TPS defers deportation for residents who face danger in their home countries due to conflict or natural disaster. The Department of Homeland Security recently extended TPS protection for Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan while ending it for Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal and Sudan. Immigrants from those countries — some of whom live in the Kansas City area — remain on edge, often unaware of the changing nature of their status. 
  • Local law enforcement. While mayors and police chiefs in cities, suburbs and rural communities say they’re not on the lookout for undocumented residents, federal laws require local law enforcement to assist federal authorities if they’re called. But considerable uncertainty surrounds local law enforcement’s role in enforcing federal immigration laws.


29.8 — Percentage of new entrepreneurs in the United States who are foreign born, according to data from Kansas City's Kauffman Foundation. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new businesses. 97 — Arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in September 2019 across the Midwest. Twenty-two took place in Kansas and 10 were in Missouri. 
92.6 — Percentage of individuals ordered deported by immigration judges in Missouri in the current fiscal year. That’s the highest percentage of any state in the country.
4,201 — Pending immigration court cases for individuals residing in Missouri as of February 2019, the latest date for which figures are available.
5,116 — Number of pending immigration court cases for individuals residing in Kansas as of February 2019.


Judges Jayme Salinardi and Justin W. Howard
Judges, Kansas City Immigration Court 

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Kansas City immigration court has two judges. There are about 350 judges nationwide handling more than a million pending cases.

Judges Salinardi and Howard, who do not grant interviews or release photos of themselves, conduct removal proceedings and decide whether to grant asylum claims. Currently there are more than 1 million pending immigration cases nationwide, meaning the nation's immigration judges have an average backlog of about 2,860 cases each.

Celiz Ruiz Calderon
Community volunteer

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Community volunteer Celia Ruiz has created a workbook to assist those facing detention or deportation.

Ruiz has compiled a workbook informing immigrants and their families what they need to know in the event of a sudden detainment or deportation order.

Ryan Hudnall
Executive director, Della Lamb Community Services

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Newly appointed Executive Director Ryan Hudnall of Della Lamb Community Services wants the work of the refugee resettlement agency to represent Kansas City as a welcoming place.

Hudnall is looking to strengthen the public information role of the resettlement and service agency to help people understand the area’s diverse immigrant and refugee population.

Rekha Sharma-Crawford
Immigration attorney

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Rekha Sharma-Crawford, immigration attorney, is a the center of one of the high-profile Supreme Court cases that will affect immigration policy nationwide.

Sharma-Crawford, a partner with her husband in the Sharma-Crawford law firm, has taken on some of the area’s most high-profile immigration cases, including a 2015 victory before the U.S. Supreme Court representing a client with a green card who faced deportation after he was pulled over and found to be in possession of four Adderall pills.


Jan. 15: This was the first scheduled naturalization ceremony in the region is at the YMCA in North Kansas City. These ceremonies, in which immigrants take an oath to become United States citizens, occur monthly in Missouri and Kansas. New citizens often encounter a voter registration table the day are naturalized.

Jan. 21: Localities had until this date to agree to resettle refugees. So far, governors from 42 states, including Missouri and Kansas, had agreed to accept refugeesin the current fiscal year, but the number of refugees each state can accept would be affected by the number of states that opt out of refugee resettlement. Last week, Texas became the first state in the nation to say it will not accept refugees. Update: A federal judge has now suspended this policy.

June: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the fate of the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows unauthorized immigrants brought here as children to live and work in the United States. The Trump administration sought to end the program, but several lower courts blocked it. The program affects roughly 700,000 young adults, who, if the high court sides with the administration, could lose their protection from deportation and their permission to work.

June: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether a state can use information on the federal I-9 employment verification form to prosecute someone for violating state law. The case at issue involved three undocumented immigrants who were convicted under Kansas’ identity-theft law after they used someone else’s Social Security number on their I-9s.

August: Refugee resettlement agencies will be watching to see what the 2021 ceiling on refugees will be. Every year, Congress recommends a number to the president before it recesses. The president, through the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions program, accepts or modifies the number, which is then passed along to the State Department.

November 3: The date of the presidential election, which will determine whether immigration policies will continue along the path carved out by the Trump administration – including the travel ban, the border wall, arrest and asylum policies.

Editor's Note: January 21 is no longer the deadline for states to opt in to refugee resettlement since a judge suspended this policy on Wednesday, January 15. The story has been updated to reflect the change.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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