Native American Woman Legislator Reminds Anti-Immigrant Politician He Was An “Illegal” Immigrant, Too

The Legislature's annual attempt to repeal a statute allowing in-state tuition for Kansas students without legal residency drew an emotional crowd to a House committee Wednesday.

Students who have lived in the United States most of their lives got choked up as they described the academic lifeline in-state tuition has provided to improve their lives. A counselor who works with such students in Wichita high schools shed tears as she showed legislators a scrapbook of success stories. Murmurs of unrest were heard in the gallery as one House member asked about the prevalence of illegal immigrants from gangs and drug cartels in American prisons.

But nothing drew a bigger reaction than when Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, wrapped up a series of questions to the bill's chief proponent, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

“I think it’s funny Mr. Kobach, because when you mention illegal immigrant, I think of all of you,” said Victors, the Legislature's lone American Indian member.

The heavily pro-immigrant gallery burst into cheers and applause — a rare reaction in normally staid hearings.

"Please don't do that," said Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, the chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Wednesday's hearing on House Bill 2192 would have repealed a nearly 10-year-old statute that allows students who graduate from Kansas high schools and have lived in Kansas for at least three years to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges, regardless of residency status.

Kobach, a lightning-rod for controversy on immigration issues, told the committee federal law conflicts with that statute.

“U.S. citizens should always come first when it comes to handing out government subsidies,” Kobach said.

Kobach also pointed out that natives of foreign countries who seek student visas to attend Kansas universities must pay out-of-state tuition.

“I think that is an absurd reverse incentive," Kobach said. "If you follow the law, we’re charging you three times more.”

Proponents of the bill were outnumbered at Wednesday's hearing, but Kobach was joined by Leah Herron, of Shawnee.

"As a taxpaying citizen, I believe it’s unfair for me to shoulder this responsibility," Herron said.

Fred Logan of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the students involved pay the same tuition as their high school classmates. Logan said of the 630 immigrants currently accessing in-state tuition under the law, more than 500 attend community colleges. He called the 2004 law a "pro-growth" initiative and said it treats students without legal status fairly.

“They’re innocent," Logan said. "That’s important to remember. They came here because their parents brought them here.”

But Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, could be seen shaking his head repeatedly as Logan said the word "innocent."

Rothlisberg later said he believes illegal immigrant parents are "using their children as pawns" and he finds it "patently offensive" when governments are asked to provide information in languages other than English. Rothlisberg asked Elias Garcia, the head of the Kansas League of United Latin American Citizens, why there are so many illegal immigrants affiliated with drug cartels and violent gangs, such as El Salvador-based MS-13, in U.S. prisons.

Garcia said Rothlisberg was overstating the problem.

“I used to work with the Department of Corrections," Garcia said. "I kind of know a lot about who’s in our jails and our prisons.”

Garcia said comprehensive immigration is on its way at the federal level and it would be a mistake to repeal the tuition law. He and Logan were joined in opposition by a string of students, including Georgina Hernandez, a Wichita State University graduate student who said her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 10.

Not eligible for federal student aid, Hernandez said she has worked nights as a hotel clerk and days as a housekeeper in order to afford in-state rates, while watching peers in southwest Kansas give up their college dreams for work in meat-packing plants.

“It’s like we’re already on the floor, and this bill would just kick us in the face,” Hernandez said.

Kim Voth, the Wichita schools counselor, said that before coming to testify she talked to one of her students who used the in-state tuition law to get an education degree and has since become a U.S. citizen and been teaching for five years.

“I asked her what I should say today," Voth said, beginning to cry. "She got very quiet, then said, 'Please tell them that my college degree changed my life.' ”

Several religious groups, including the Kansas Catholic Conference, also opposed the bill.

The committee took no action on it.

Responses to "Indian lawmaker to Kobach: Who's the illegal immigrant here?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Isn't it interesting how often education is at the center of so called conservatives attempts to limit opportunity for those they don't like. They never seem to consider the cost to society of incarcerating those same people when the effects of that limited opportunity lead to criminal activity.

  2. Stay Strong! Very proud of what you do and what you stand for. God bless you. Brother Jeff. p.s. according to family legend my father who raised me and my uncles who I unfortunately did not meet were of the Cherokee Nation

  3. Anonymous says:

    The trail of tears imprisoned the indian nation, and now the government still continues to punish these TRUE Americans. The white man, IS the True immigrant here, no matter what state... The government is a criminal group... Look what they did to our ancestors, and the children of the nation!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh I would love to see Rothlisberg, who "finds it "patently offensive" when governments are asked to provide information in languages other than English", if his holiday-country-of-choice decided to only provide information in its native language...

  5. Anonymous says:

    applause!!!!!! you go!!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    "Rothlisberg asked why there are so many illegal immigrants affiliated with drug cartels and violent gangs, such as El Salvador-based MS-13, in U.S. prisons."

    The issue that was being discussed was whether or not students who graduate from Kansas high schools and have lived in Kansas for at least three years to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges, regardless of residency status.

    My question back to Rothlisberg is how many cartel and gang members are attending community college? It's apples and oranges. There is no correlation between immigrants who want to go to college and immigrants who join gangs, and this idea of keeping the poor masses down is bad for our culture.

    The correlation that I think may stand up is that children are less likely to join a gang when they come from parents with college degrees, upward mobility, and opportunity.

    You want to stop the drug cartels and violent gangs? How about a FREE college education to anyone who wants it?

  7. Anonymous says:

    mijita los tienes grandes:-)! I tell my husband I just croos the Colorado Rriver. But your ancestor cross the big Oceon, SOOO who is more mojado Honey :-) wachale you steel dripin man! GOD blees you ALWAYS!

  8. Anonymous says:

    The things that really pisses me off is when this asshole racists try to use the bad apples we have...What about all the Cosa Nostra, Russian Mafia, Irish Mob, Serial Killer (majority white) Biker Gangs (majority White except for los Vagos and the Mongols) The Ku Kux Klan....and well, should I go on? yes we do have a lot of bad apples, that does not mean we are all bad, and besides if Yori man did not consume drugs we would not have cartels...In the prohibition era, Yori man (white man in Yaqui)smuggled Alchohol from Mexico and started Mexicans in contraband. Yori thinks our water is Moctezuma's Revenge is water(Not Montezuma it is written and pronounced Moctezuma) but the real Moctezuma's revenge are the drugs that come in through the border (which was not there, when the Comanche raided south)

  9. Anonymous says:

    i think it is bogus that people have to keep tract of what language people speak. other then the american language people are speaking languages from there native they know that 5000 american people who i know are lerning over nindy languages because of the mission they serve? i am proud to be 1/18th native american i was born in savannah ga by loving parence who gave me the chance to have a good edjication that i can say im proud of. this lady and leader is well respected by her nation and tribe. you go girl.

  10. Unknown says:

    I am concerned about our legal immigrant population. I am a Native Indian woman, with a Ph.D., from the University of Southern California. I have lived in East Los Angeles for decades, so I have lived among the Hispanic and Asian populations that are at the heart of the discussions. There has been no studies done on the damages that are accumulated with illegal immigration. Most importantly, housing, medical, social services, and education.

    Our high schools and colleges are so overwhelmed with individuals who are not United States citizens, that our own American Hispanic and others cannot get a seat in the classroom. The money that is poured into sustaining the illegal population in our city and State is creating such a strain on all areas. It is vital to understand that we cannot continue down this path of "give away" programs to non-Americans while our fellow Americans are forced out of our neighborhood schools, homes, hospitals, and social programs.

    I am confident that if there is statistical and social research data collected and analyzed, on the fiscal impact of the illegal immigrant, the numbers will be staggering. I would ask that perhaps you will push for further studies into the matter and begin to work toward a resolution with scientific evidence.

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