From erecting security border fencing and walls to increasing the number of temporary worker permits to providing a pathway to citizenship, federal politicians continue to offer a variety of solutions addressing illegal immigration. I have always believed that it is imperative that we as American citizens dialogue and develop consensus on the underlying causes of illegal immigration so that our federally elected officials can be held accountable to honestly and effectively address this issue.

Illegal immigrants come to the U.S. for jobs. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that there were approximately 11.2 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in March 2010 with approximately 8 million illegal immigrants in the work force. This means that illegal immigrants currently make up approximately 5 % of the U.S. work force, with one out of every twenty workers in America being an illegal immigrant. And this phenomenon comes with a hefty price tag. A study published by George Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at Harvard University, concluded that by increasing the supply of labor between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of U.S.-born men by an estimated $1,700 or roughly 4 percent. He also found that among U.S.-born men without a high school diploma (approximately the poorest tenth of the U.S. workforce), the estimated impact was even larger, reducing their wages by 7.4 percent.

I have consistently maintained that the only way we will ever reduce this significant pool of illegal labor is by having the U.S. government aggressively 1) protect its borders and 2) identify and sanction those employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Given the federal government’s continued inaction on the issue, however, states across the country are implementing their own solutions. This year I have sponsored legislation (SB 181) that would require both Kansas governmental entities and
Kansas businesses who receive government contracts to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system to verify the employment eligibility of new hires starting on or after January 1st, 2012. The purpose of the bill is to begin putting employers on notice that purposefully hiring illegal immigrants will no longer be tolerated.

The Kansas Legislature has a rather dubious record on this issue. Despite a number of bills introduced since the 2003 session (a number of which I have sponsored or co-sponsored), the legislature has failed to toughen existing penalties that are widely perceived as being weak and ineffective. The legislature did, however, make some progress during 2006 by passing misclassification legislation I sponsored that assists the Kansas Department of Revenue in identifying those companies that purposefully mis-classify workers as independent contractors instead of W-2 employees (a prevalent business practice for those firms employing illegal immigrants). The bill allows the Department to charge those violators with penalties and interest for not reporting and paying state income tax withholdings. Given Kansas citizens’ concerns regarding illegal immigration, I am hopeful that E-Verify will finally become part of the state’s hiring practices this year.

There will always be those who would try to use illegal immigration as a means for simply fanning American fears and prejudices against immigrants. If we want to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, however, we must instead focus our attention on fellow U.S. citizens who knowingly or intentionally hire illegal immigrants. We simply cannot tolerate those deliberate business practices that slowly but surely undermine the economic aspirations and potential of Kansan working men and women.

Paid for by Tom Holland for Kansas Senate
Kris Marsh, Treasurer