Immigrants Face New Reality and Old Fears Under a Kansas Law Banning ‘Sanctuary’ Cities

TOPEKA — Alejandro Rangel-Lopez says fear is a given in a mixed-status household.

Growing up in Dodge City with an undocumented parent, Rangel-Lopez constantly feared his father coming home with news that immigration agents had detained his mother.

And he says fear of deportation kept his mother from reporting an abusive ex-husband who fled with their two oldest children to Mexico in 2001.

“That’s what delayed her justice and cost her the right to see my two older siblings grow up,” Rangel-Lopez said. “She couldn’t see them until she got her green card this year, 21 years later.”

The fear of law enforcement or other government authorities that many immigrants experience is corrosive to a community, said Rangel-Lopez, the lead coordinator for New Frontiers Project, a southwest Kansas group working to civically empower people of color. And that’s why the 21-year-old University of Kansas student supports city ordinances like the short-lived Safe and Welcoming Act in Wyandotte County that limit or prohibit how much city officials can cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

The policy also provided immigrants a municipal identification card without fear of information going to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But a new state law passed with haste earlier this year in response to the Wyandotte County ordinance.

Immigrants are reeling from the law and the far reaching effects it could have on their communities, even beyond those with welcoming ordinances. With a growing immigrant population, advocates warn of economic and criminal fallout from the legislative action.

The law prohibits local governments from taking action to prevent law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities. Municipality ID cards are invalid when used instead of state identification for purposes like voter ID.

The state law undercuts not only the Wyandotte County ordinance but similar ones in Lawrence and Roeland Park. Immigration advocates say the law will have a chilling effect on the state’s economy and create several legal dilemmas.

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