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From the Sentinel: Immigration now pivotal issue for Senate race

By Katie Stockstill
Managing Editor

Rep. Jerry Moran thought he had an ace in his back pocket when Congressman Todd Tiahrt admitted his past support for the DREAM Act, which allows children of immigrants an opportunity obtain citizenship. The admission was brought to light during last week’s Topeka Senate debate and Moran’s campaign immediately jumped on what it believed to be a damaging statement on a topic that had quickly become a major issue for both campaigns. Television commercials hit the airwaves and a stream of press releases attacked Tiahrt for being soft on illegal immigrants. The issue of immigration quickly moved to the forefront, leaving everything else in the dust.

But Moran’s immigration parade came to a screeching halt Tuesday when Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo withdrew his endorsement for Moran citing his “deception” and “support of amnesty and benefits for illegal immigrants,” immediately throwing his support around Tiahrt.

“After independent research, I have learned disturbing information about Congressman Moran’s support of amnesty and benefits for illegal immigrants. He voted against my amendment to defund sanctuary cities, essentially granting amnesty to all illegal immigrants in each of those cities. Congressman Moran also voted with Nancy Pelosi to remove citizenship verification for illegal immigrants to receive welfare benefits,” Tancredo wrote in his letter announcing his change of heart. “Because I care about the burden illegal immigration places on this country, I am withdrawing my endorsement of Congressman Moran and proudly endorsing Congressman Todd Tiahrt. If you care about the damage illegal immigration does to our society, I hope you can join me in supporting and voting for Congressman Todd Tiahrt.”

The loss of Tancredos support was damaging in itself but the timing of the announcement, only hours after the Moran campaign issued a four-page summary of his position on immigration- and includes a summary of Tancredo’s support for Moran- made the announcement only that much more hurtful.

The blow was a huge one for the Moran campaign, which thought it had pave its way to victory using an issue that few believed would make it into the conversation. Now many following the race are left scratching their heads, wondering where their issues got stacked and why something that affects so few has become the issue for both parties.

State Representative Clark Shultz, R-Lindsborg said the attention to immigration has even taken him by surprise and attributes much of the attention and emotion involved to the emotion and symbolic nature of immigration.

Immigration Issues

According to estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, between 40,000 and 70,000 illegal immigrants reside in Kansas as of 2005. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates that illegal immigrants cost Kansas taxpayers $442 million per year- with much of that expense going to education and Medicaid. Numbers USA gives little distinction between the two Congressman’s voting records on the issue, grading Tihart at an “A-” for his efforts from 2007-2010 but lowing his grade to a “C” for efforts over the course of his entire legislative career. Moran was graded at a “B-” for 2007-2010 votes on immigration but has a more favorable life-time grade of “B”.

Both candidates have co-sponsored legislation aimed at making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to operate in the U.S. Moran sponsored H.R. 4088, the Secure America with Verification and Enforcement Act, and H.R. 997, a resolution establishing English as a official language of the U.S. He supports Arizona’s new immigration law and believes the U.S. simply needs to enforce its existing laws.

Tiahrt, likewise, introduced the Fairness for American Students Act and co-sponsored H.R. 878, which would end chair migration through the elimination of extended family visas. He has also repeatedly voice his support for building a fence along the country’s north and south borders.

But the issue of immigration has not been a major one for state lawmakers. Shultz said Kansas has fewer problems with illegal immigrants, when compared to other states, and many law makers have, in the past, taken the approach that if people are here because their parents came to the country- either legally or illegally- they should be allowed to obtain residency. In 2004, state lawmakers approved legislation that allows children of immigrants, who have attended a Kansas high school for at least three year, to pay in-state tuition at any state school. Those are the same efforts each said has accused the other of supporting and Tiahrt worked to make illegal. Shultz said Arizona’s action on the issue heated up the conversation on immigration and likely changed the hearts and minds of many lawmakers, who were once friendly to immigrants. But the issue still isn’t a dominate one for residents, business owners and schools. Some parts of the state see a larger impact from immigrants but state-wide other issues, such as rural development, alternative energy and taxes, impact people more frequently.

“Arizona brought the subject to the fore-front and put people on put people firmly on one side or another,” Shultz said. “I definitely think we will hear more about this issue.”

Change of Heart

Tancredo’s change in heart is big for those that vote on the issue of immigration. The virtual walking mouthpiece of the efforts to rid the country of people here illegally, has labeled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor a racist and labeled President Obama as a bigger threat to the country than any outside nation. He is a polarizing figure but remains a darling of the conservative right.

But his change of heart isn’t uncommon. Earlier this month, Tancado flip-flopped sides in the Arizona Attorney General race. Like is excuse for dumping Moran, Tancredo claims he did not fully vet Tom Horne and changed his support to Andrew Thomas.

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