Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach recently wrote a guest commentary for The Kansas City Star defending his decision to make illegal immigration a major theme of his campaign. During his announcement in June, the current Kansas secretary of state stated that illegal immigration threatened the state’s budget, wages, and safety.
On its face, Kobach’s claim that undocumented immigrants burden state taxpayers by consuming welfare and public services is already difficult to believe. Undocumented immigrants comprise of only three percent of Kansas’ population and aren’t even eligible to receive most welfare benefits.
In a subsequent interview, Kobach specified that illegal immigrants cost Kansans a total of $424 million every year. Although the source of this figure is not confirmed, it seems to come from a study authored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Kobach has served as counsel for the organization’s legal arm since 2004 — so there’s obvious some conflict of interest.
There are huge problems with the study. First, it seems to have inflated the number of undocumented immigrants, presenting figures significantly higher than the Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Research Center estimates.
The study also asserts that undocumented immigrants rarely pay taxes. But in 2014, Kansas’ undocumented population paid a total of $42.9 million in state and local taxes and $61.3 million in federal taxes, albeit through fake social security numbers.
However, Kobach and FAIR assert that immigrants create upfront costs at the state level — most visibly in the form of public schools educating their children. These costs are mainly due to the fact that undocumented immigrants typically earn less, thus paying less than the average citizen.
But both fail to mention that investing in these children’s education increases their earning power as future taxpayers, making up for their parents’ smaller incomes. In Kansas, where first generation immigrants impose deficits, the taxes paid by the children and grandchildren are so significant that the combined state net fiscal impact for first, second, and third generation immigrants results in a surplus of $1,550 per household.
Kobach’s assertion that undocumented immigrants harm wages is also misleading. The majority of research finds that immigrants do not reduce American wages. This is because their different levels of education and proficiencies in English steer them toward different occupations.
Furthermore, undocumented immigrants create more job openings and raise wages for Americans because their low labor costs allow firms to expand.
Kobach also claims that undocumented immigrants expose citizens to more crime and terror threats. Contrary to popular belief, immigrants commit less crime and are incarcerated at around one-fifth the rate of citizens. And the chance of an American being murdered by an illegal immigrant in a terrorist attack is one in 10.9 billion a year.
It shouldn’t be surprising that immigrants are less prone to crime than natives. People who leave their country in pursuit of opportunity tend to be uniquely hardworking and ambitious — traits that we do not associate with violent criminals or thieves. This is likely why the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants in Kansas are employed.
Kobach’s fight against illegal immigration is steeped in false claims and misleading information. If his misguided beliefs influence law, thousands of immigrants who contribute to their communities will be harmed. Kobach should recognize their contributions and work on making Kansas a welcoming state for the hardworking people who have struggled to come here.
Kansas City native Sam Peak writes for Young Voices, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps cultivate young thought leaders.