© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas Governor Kelly signs ‘sanctuary city’ bill, dealing harsh blow to immigration activists

Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is pictured.

The Democratic governor signed the Republican-backed bill acknowledging that veterans, the elderly and people with disabilities will be adversely affected. She called on the Legislature to lobby the state's Congressional delegation to pass comprehensive immigration reform and allow the state to focus on state and local issues.

Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signed a Republican-backed bill on Monday that will thwart hard-fought efforts by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, to issue municipal IDs to residents unable to get legal photo IDs.

The UG's "Safe and Welcoming Act," which would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain municipal IDs, faced backlash from the state GOP.

Passed by the UG in February, the act also blocked local police from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities except in the case of threats to public safety or a warrant signed by a judge.

Kelly, who is up for re-election in November, said in a statement that she signed the statute because it is the responsibility of federal officials, not municipalities, to address our broken immigration system.

"Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to address immigration issues for decades," Kelly said in the statement. "We need a national solution and we need it now."

The law originated with Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who objected to the UG ordinance, saying Wyandotte County would become a "sanctuary jurisdiction for illegal immigrants,” and calling on the Legislature to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

Schmidt, who is expected to be the Republican candidate facing Kelly in November, suggested in a statement that she had little choice but to sign the bill.

"The veto-proof bipartisan support for this bill in the Legislature demonstrated its importance," he said. "Under this new law, Kansas law enforcement will be able to resume working professionally with federal immigration authorities ... and not be silenced by a patchwork of local sanctuary city gag orders."

Laura Ziegler
David Johnson, 64, advocates for the Safe and Welcoming Act at a July 2021 rally in Kansas City, Kansas.

The push to pass Safe and Welcoming lasted five years, with vocal protests occurring throughout three different mayoral administrations.

Supporters of the act have said that proof of identity is required for many essential activities, including health care, job applications, enrolling children in school and cashing a check.

Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner noted that immigrants were only one group the municipal ID assisted. It helped other vulnerable residents, including those experiencing homelessness, formerly incarcerated people, kids aging out of the foster system and many elderly people.

“Residents here in Wyandotte County, no matter where they're from, no matter who they are need to feel safe and protected by law enforcement when they seek services,” Garner said.

Karla Juarez, Executive Director of the Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, had been optimistic that the governor would veto the bill. She was dejected when she got the news.

"Oh boy, I don't know what our next steps will be," she said.

Juarez said Kelly's signature on the bill sends a destructive message to communities about engagement.

"Government is for the people," she said. "The message today is, even if they get involved, the government won't listen. It sure seemed that way through this process."

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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.