Government & Politics

Kris Kobach jumps into local immigration fight, condemns Roeland Park police policy

Before Republican Kris Kobach gained national attention as a hard-line conservative, he traveled to cities across the country pushing controversial laws to fight illegal immigration.

Now, as he campaigns for U.S. Senate, the former Kansas secretary of state is once again wading into a local fight.

Kobach on Tuesday called Roeland Park the first sanctuary city in Kansas, claiming its police department restricts cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The city administrator aggressively disputed the label, saying the city has not taken any action to limit cooperation.

At the request of the American Civil Liberties Union, the city council has discussed creating a “safe and welcoming policy,” which could prohibit the use of local law enforcement resources to carry out federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions.

But no ordinance has been drafted.

“I don’t understand (Kobach’s) misunderstanding of what has occurred,” City Administrator Keith Moody said. “I would be happy to provide him more insight. But he has not reached out to the city of Roeland Park for verification on what has occurred.”

Kobach vowed that if elected he would pursue legislation to restrict federal funding to sanctuary cities.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when one of its cities says we are putting the interests of illegal aliens over the safety of U.S. citizens in our city. And that’s exactly what Roeland Park has done,” Kobach said at a news conference outside a community center in Roeland Park.

In early September, Letitia Harmon, policy director for ACLU of Kansas, asked the Roeland Park City Council to consider an ordinance that could include a non-compliance policy limiting cooperation with ICE. Such an ordinance also could require the city to distribute free municipal identification cards to all residents, with the goal of helping people without government-issued IDs access local services.

Council members directed city staff to explore the issue. On Monday night, Police Chief John Morris gave a presentation on existing—but until recently unwritten—police procedures related to immigration. Morris provided council members with a document outlining the department’s procedures, which say police will cooperate with ICE when required to do so by statute, federal law, court order, or if there is a threat to public safety.

The procedures require the police chief or a supervisor to sign off on any enforcement action by Roeland Park police concerning someone’s citizenship. And it says police will not enforce immigration detainers issued by ICE.

A detainer is a request by ICE that a person arrested on local or state charges who is also suspected of immigration violations be held long enough for the agency to take custody.

Numerous cities and counties across the country have similar policies and do not comply with ICE requests for detainers.

Councilman Michael Poppa requested the police department’s current practices regarding immigration be included in its written policy.

The city council did not decide whether it will consider changing police procedures in the future.

“The council seemed comfortable with the city’s current approach,” Moody said. “Roeland Park has and will continue to support and assist federal law enforcement agencies.”

Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Democrat whose district includes Roeland Park, called Kobach’s statements a “classic Kris Kobach move.”

“Roeland Park is a wonderful place to live. I have never heard of any problems with any people, legal or illegal and this is just fear-mongering,” said Bollier, who is also weighing a run for U.S. Senate.

Throughout his career, Kobach has often worked at the local level to advance a hardline immigration agenda. An investigation last year by The Star and ProPublica found that Kobach has been paid more than $800,000 for immigration work by towns and advocacy groups.

Kobach continues to receive a $10,000 a year retainer from Fremont, Neb., where he crafted an ordinance banning landlords from renting homes to immigrants living in the country illegally, though the measure has proven unenforceable.

“This has been an issue I’ve been working on for the past two decades. So it’s not the mere fact that I happen to be a Senate candidate that brings me here,” Kobach said in Roeland Park.

He added that he “would be here pointing out my opposition to that regardless of whether I was secretary of state or a Senate candidate or anything else.”

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.
Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.