Kris Kobach is twisting the truth about undocumented immigrants at Kansas universities

Kris Kobach, Republican candidate for Kansas governor
Kris Kobach, Republican candidate for Kansas governor The Wichita Eagle

Secretary of State and Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach is pitching some wild numbers in his quest to blame undocumented immigrants for all that troubles Kansas.

Kobach made the erroneous claim that tuition hikes at state universities and community colleges wouldn’t have been necessary if the so-called Dreamers weren’t allowed to pay lower in-state rates.

Rubbish, according to the fiscal note provided by the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s six universities, 19 community colleges, six technical colleges and one municipal university.

First, Kobach’s math is off.

Kobach was right about the number of students — 670 — who enrolled in Fall 2017 under the state’s 14-year-old law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay their way through college at the lower in-state rates if they meet a range of criteria.

The vast majority of those young people are attending community colleges or technical schools. Only 142 are enrolled at the state’s universities.

“You could have gotten rid of the tuition hike for 2018 if we weren’t giving that money to subsidize illegal aliens,” Kobach said.

The students he disparages are 0.37 percent of the total students enrolled in higher education institutions in the state. The fees they pay fall far short of the amount generated by the tuition increases.

Even if all of those students paid the higher non-resident tuition and fees, only about $2.3 million would be raised, the Board of Regents reports. Kobach claimed the state had lost out on $4 million in revenue during a recent speech.

Here’s another problem with his calculations: Without the law, most of these students wouldn’t be able to pursue higher education at all, as they tend to be from lower-income families, and they aren’t eligible for federal or state student financial aid. So the state wouldn’t receive any of their money.

Also, Kansas wouldn’t benefit from the higher tax revenues and contributions from their employment after they graduate.

And that’s the whole point of sending these students to college or training programs in the first place. They want to be employed in skilled jobs so that they can contribute to Kansas and to their families. They also agree to seek legal status if that option opens up for them.

But not one to dwell on the facts, Kobach has also been proclaiming that Kansas is the “sanctuary state of Midwest.” In fact, Kansas is one of nearly 20 states that offer in-state college rates to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without documents.

Kobach also tried to assert that without undocumented immigrants, job security would improve across the state. Economists have long argued otherwise.

Unemployment and under-employment of U.S.-born people is more complicated than assuming that every position held by an undocumented immigrant could be readily filled by a native-born person. This is especially true for seasonal labor and highly strenuous jobs that many Americans tend to shun.

Kobach can certainly campaign as he wishes. But please don’t fudge the facts or throw striving young people under the bus.

Doing so is beneath someone who wants to lead the state as governor. And it’s certainly not what Kansans ought to stand for.