Kansas agriculture secretary seeking federal waiver that would allow companies to hire illegal immigrants as large dairies, feedlots desperate for workers
January 30, 2012
Facing pressure from large dairies and feedlots desperate for workers, Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman is seeking a federal waiver that would allow companies to hire illegal immigrants.
Rodman has met several times with officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about launching a pilot program that would place employers and illegal immigrants in a special state-organized network. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the goal is to create a legal, straightforward manner of organizing existing immigrant labor.
So far, Homeland Security has neither approved nor rejected the idea.
“I need a waiver,” Rodman said. “It would be good for Kansas agriculture.”
Now, a coalition of business interests is preparing to push the idea in Topeka. Details are expected to emerge this week about a bill establishing the outline of a state-managed worker program. Operating in cooperation with the federal government, it would link sponsor companies with illegal immigrants who have been in Kansas a minimum of five years and have no criminal background.
The employees and employers would pay fees that would support the program, ensuring the state incurred no oversight cost.
Mike Beam, senior vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association, said the objective was to secure a reliable, regulated labor pool to the state’s businesses. Despite the recession, there are counties in rural Kansas with unemployment rates half the state average.
Other groups backing the idea include the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and local chamber affiliates, the Kansas Farm Bureau and building industry organizations. This is the same coalition that contributed to blocking a version of the Arizona immigration measure to detain individuals they think might be undocumented.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped craft the Arizona law, has vowed to work to obtain passage of a Kansas law requiring employers to deploy the federal E-Verify system to establish the credentials of new hires.
Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the state’s labor force needed to be solid to allow agricultural production to expand.
“They’re having trouble finding people,” Taddiken said. “The agricultural sector is looking for reliability.”
Rodman, the state’s agriculture secretary, said he would leave promotion of state legislation to others and would focus on making his case to Homeland Security.
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