By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
(This was originally published in the Kansas City Star online.)
The Sunflower State is home to a vibrant and growing Hispanic community — this is heartening to me as a native Kansan whose family has proudly called the state home for more than 60 years. The Kansas demographic landscape has changed quite a bit over the past decade. The Hispanic population alone grew by more than 59 percent according to Census figures; over 301,000 Hispanics now call Kansas home. The community has become an important contributor to growing the state’s economy, particularly during the last few years as the nation has struggled to recuperate from a difficult recession.
According to the most recent figures, Latinos have a state purchasing power of more than $6.7 billion, and Hispanic-owned businesses account for $1.3 billion in sales and employ almost 8,000 workers in the state. In the small rural towns of the Great Plains, migrant families have helped breathe new life into America’s heartland by toiling the fields, opening up small businesses, and filling school classrooms with the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers and farmers.
The reality is that while most members of the Latino community in Kansas are legal residents or citizens (37 percent of whom voted in the last election), there are those who do not have a vehicle to legalize their immigration status under current law. These are folks who contribute an estimated $1.8 billion to the state’s economy, many of them have citizen children, and most of them are looking for a way to contribute more to building a stronger Kansas. But this would require them to come out of the shadows, and it would require our nation to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law that would provide a way for many of them to earn their citizenship, and for those already eligible, provide a naturalization process that is less cost prohibitive.
The U.S. Congress is currently debating a comprehensive package introduced by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” a group of senators who have worked on legislation that will get our immigration system on a legal footing, addressing legalization, worker programs, and border security, among other necessary elements. With this bill, they have sought to place our nation’s best interests above politics and have been successful in moving the legislation through a very cumbersome amendment process with most of its core principles intact.
Their efforts should be applauded and supported; the American people don’t benefit from gridlock and partisanship, we stand to reap our greatest rewards when our elected representatives work together with our collective best interests in mind.
A comprehensive immigration bill is in all our best interests, and I encourage all citizens of Kansas to reach out to your congressional representatives and make your support of immigration reform known. Together, we can promote the passage of a new law that will aid in growing our economy, strengthening our local communities, and ensuring a brighter future for the state so many are proud to call home.