Xenophobia in Kansas: A Harmful Response to a Humanitarian Crisis

A group of immigrants waits in line at a distant processing center run by the U.S. Border Patrol. They have recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and are now in Lukeville, Arizona. The image depicts the scene as captured on December 7, 2023, and showcases the reality faced by many immigrants seeking a new life in the United States.

Why did lawmakers in Kansas choose to spend their time passing a resolution that holds no legal weight, regarding a crisis that is over 700 miles away from the state’s border? It seems perplexing when there are numerous urgent issues that require their attention right here at home.

A bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate to ban foreign land ownership, sparking controversy. Similarly, there was considerable backlash when a Topeka initiative aimed at attracting workers to the city was announced.

Xenophobia is the root cause.

American politicians have long used the tactic of fueling hatred towards certain groups in order to gain or maintain power. Throughout history, this intolerance has targeted various outsiders, including Irish Catholics, Jewish intellectuals, and Black preachers. Today, the hatred is directed towards Spanish-speaking asylum seekers, Chinese nationals, and anyone who questions the destruction of the Gaza Strip. This pattern of leveraging hate for political gain has persisted for decades.

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The resolution in support of Texas in its conflict with the federal government over border control was passed 80-40 by the Kansas House on Wednesday. Although it consumed a significant amount of legislative hours and caused some confusion regarding the definition of a “prop,” it ultimately served no meaningful purpose. However, the House did establish a rule to maintain decorum during debates, stating that props were not allowed. Holding a copy of the actual bill being debated was considered the use of a prop. This decision was made in response to Minority Leader Vic Miller, D-Topeka, who had a copy of the resolution in his hand while speaking.

More than 60 members sponsored a resolution urging Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to extend the services of the Kansas National Guard to Texas. The resolution, which also emphasized state sovereignty, criticized the Biden administration for its perceived failure to protect the country from an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants and for restricting Texas from defending itself.

Under the leadership of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, Texas has implemented various security measures, including the installation of razor wire and other barriers along a 29-mile stretch of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas. However, federal authorities have expressed concerns that this razor wire poses a danger to border agents and hinders their ability to provide assistance to migrants in distress. Unfortunately, the consequences of these security measures were tragically demonstrated in January when a mother and two children lost their lives while attempting to cross the border. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court has granted federal agents the authority to remove the razor wire.

Kelly responded to the resolution by stating that the border falls under federal jurisdiction. He emphasized that Kansas troops would only be deployed if instructed by the president. In the meantime, Republican senators in the United States Senate declined to move forward with a bipartisan border security bill. This bill is also connected to military assistance for Ukraine. Additionally, the proposed legislation would diminish the authority of Texas and other states to contest border jurisdiction in federal courts.

Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth, effectively introduced a nonbinding resolution urging Gov. Laura Kelly to contemplate the deployment of Kansas National Guard troops and Kansas law enforcement officers to the U.S.-Mexico border. The goal is to demonstrate solidarity with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to secure the border amid the ongoing dispute with the Biden administration.

“Make no mistake, the state of Texas and all the states on our southern border with Mexico are facing an invasion,” emphasized Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth, during the Kansas House’s comprehensive discussion. “It’s not just individuals from Mexico seeking a better life. People from all corners of the globe, including military-age males from China and the Middle East, are also involved.”

The border crisis is indeed a genuine crisis, but it is not a military or criminal invasion. Instead, it is a humanitarian emergency. The increasing economic and political instability in Central and South America, not Mexico, has compelled migrants to seek asylum in the United States. While the numbers are the highest they have been in two decades, it is important to note that not all asylum seekers are involved in drug trafficking, criminal activities, or malicious intent. Unfortunately, the situation at the U.S. border mirrors what is happening with other displaced populations worldwide.

The Trump party recognizes Biden’s approach to the border as a vulnerability, so they have capitalized on every chance to exploit immigration for political gain. This is evident in their decision to dismantle the bipartisan immigration agreement, aiming to prolong the issue’s relevance. Additionally, they made unsuccessful attempts to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The new Kansas Senate bill, supported by Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach, aims to prohibit foreign individuals from buying land that is three acres or more, as a way to address the immigration issue.

“It’s not only China that we need to be concerned about; Mexican drug cartels are also a significant issue,” stated Kobach while expressing his support for the bill. “These cartels have acquired vast amounts of land in Texas, Oklahoma, and California.”

The proposed legislation aims to establish a state land council consisting of five members. This council, or their selected representatives, would include important figures such as the attorney general, the adjutant general, the governor, the secretary of state, and the director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Their primary responsibility would be to review and evaluate requests for exemptions.

State Senator Mike Thompson, a Republican, joined Kobach to endorse the bill, emphasizing its importance in safeguarding the interests of Kansans while also welcoming investments from individuals from other countries who are considered “good.”

According to the Reflector’s Rachel Mipro, when asked to present evidence of cartel influence or the presence of foreign entities, Attorney General Kobach hesitated, stating that such activities are difficult to track and often go unreported. This echoes Kobach’s previous claims of undocumented immigrants driving illegal voting in Kansas, which he ultimately failed to substantiate in federal court.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach held a news conference on February 6, 2024, where he announced a fresh initiative to prohibit foreign ownership of farmland in Kansas.

The media blew up the coverage of the “Choose Topeka” initiative, which offered $15,000 to assist workers in moving to the city. This exaggerated attention only fueled xenophobia further.

Tomi Lahren, a former host of One America News Network and now a member of Fox News, strongly criticized Topeka for enticing undocumented migrants with the promise of thousands of dollars and other benefits. Lahren, who considered the U.S. Border Patrol’s use of tear gas on migrants during Thanksgiving 2018 as a highlight, argued that Topeka was simply being transparent about the Biden administration’s efforts to attract undocumented individuals to sanctuary cities.

The Topeka initiative faced criticism from various outlets, including the U.K.’s Daily Mail. However, it is important to note that the program, which started in 2019, is exclusively available to individuals who are legally eligible to work and reside in Topeka. Currently, only 150 individuals have met the qualifications for the program, with only 10 percent of the effort specifically targeting Spanish speakers. Contrary to certain misconceptions, the initiative does not provide transportation from the border, luxury apartments, or free cell phones. We apologize for any misunderstanding, Tomi.

The federal government and the state of Texas continue to clash over border control. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned an injunction from a federal appeals court that had prohibited federal border patrol agents from removing concertina wire. This temporary victory for the Biden administration does not mark the end of the ongoing standoff.

The Kansas House resolution, although lacking any real power, could potentially encourage and motivate Texas to take further action.

Gov. Abbott’s choice of language is highly inflammatory, evoking images of imminent armed conflict.

According to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s official state website, the open border policies implemented by President Biden have resulted in a continuous crisis at the southern border. This has led to a significant influx of illegal immigrants and dangerous drugs into Texas. Despite the federal government’s disregard for this crisis, Texas remains steadfast in its commitment to address the situation.

The mention of affirming “state sovereignty” in the Kansas resolution is noteworthy.

The Constitution of the Confederate States in 1861 also included a similar statement in its preamble.

States in the modern context are indeed sovereign, granting them the ability to govern themselves. However, this right to self-determination is not absolute and is subject to federal jurisdiction. It is important to note that states cannot nullify federal laws. A notable example of a state attempting to nullify federal law occurred in Arkansas in 1958 during the desegregation of schools under the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board. The state’s governor at the time, Orval Faubus, a Democrat, ultimately faced defeat in his efforts to block the implementation of desegregation.

The Lone Star State is also heading towards a similar showdown.

The immigration crisis differs from the desegregation crisis in several ways. It is important to note that we are still recovering from the events of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Furthermore, the border crisis tends to attract individuals with strong weaponry and a potential threat to national security. Adding to the complexity, we are on the brink of a presidential election that holds the power to shape the future of American democracy. It is worth mentioning that Texas has its own Department of the Military, including its own state guard in addition to the National and Air Guard troops. Their motto proudly states “Duty. Honor. Texas.” Notably, approximately half of all states possess their own armies.

The likelihood of an armed conflict between a state and the federal government is higher in Texas than it has been in the past 163 years. While I’m not suggesting that this will be the starting point of the next Civil War, the potential for such a conflict exists.

The Kansas House should prioritize addressing dangerous and xenophobic rhetoric instead of focusing on decorum.

Max McCoy, a renowned author and journalist, contributes his expertise to the Kansas Reflector’s opinion section. The Kansas Reflector aims to elevate the perspectives of individuals impacted by public policies or marginalized in public discussions. For more details, including guidelines on submitting your own commentary, kindly visit their website.

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