Before the Civil War, Kansas was part of the Underground Railroad, where black slaves could escape to freedom.
White people and free blacks as well as Native Americans serving as conductors on the Underground Railroad helped spirit slaves to freedom, using a network of trails, hiding places, signals, codes and safe houses. Runaways received food, water and shelter as they went from place to place in the secretive system until they were no longer in danger of being captured and taken back into slavery.
One of the better-known sites was the town of Quindaro in Wyandotte County for black people fleeing bondage in Missouri, a slave state even during the Civil War.
Now it seems that refugees fleeing war-torn countries will have the federal government serving as their conductors on a 21st century underground railroad into the U.S. Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday he was withdrawing Kansas from the federal government’s refugee relocation program, citing concerns over future terrorist attacks.
The federal government is right to say “I don’t think so” to Brownback. Federal officials told The Kansas City Star that they will continue to resettle refugees in the Sunflower State.
Brownback had issued executive orders preventing state agencies from aiding in the resettlement of refugees from Syria and other locations. His announcement Tuesday was supposed to take the state out of the resettlement program altogether.
Brownback’s spokeswoman said states by law could pull out of the program, and Kansas was the first to do so for security reasons.
But apparently that only means that Brownback has simply removed Kansas from having a voice in the process. Since October, more than 350 refugees from various countries have been resettled in Kansas, and 13 from Syria have been placed in the Wichita or Kansas City, Kan., areas since January 2015.
So the federal government is expected to continue to spirit refugees into Kansas over protests from the governor and his Republican administration. No doubt the refugees — just like black runaways during the antebellum period — will find Kansas to be a perfectly hospitable state.
They can send their children to Kansas schools. The adult refugees can learn English and get jobs. With hard work and the help of their good Kansas neighbors — who are following in the footsteps of conductors on the Underground Railroad — the refugees can be made to feel welcome, buy homes, become U.S. citizens and live the American dream despite Brownback’s actions.
Like the black runaways of the 19th century and before, they will add to Kansas’ population, pay taxes and maybe even start new businesses to help plug the new $290 million budget hole that Brownback’s fiscal recklessness helped create.
The governor should embrace the refugees and ask for more, not put up roadblocks to keep them away.
Or maybe he’s angling to be on future U.S. currency as the lesser Andrew Jackson-like character — pictured subserviently to a modern-day Harriet Tubman-like figure as a conductor on the 21st century underground railroad.