TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Kris Kobach raised a migrant caravan moving through Mexico as an issue in his campaign for Kansas governor, suggesting that lax state immigration policies are helping to lure them north.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is a strong ally of President Donald Trump and has made enacting state policies against illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign for governor. He’s had a national profile on the issue for at least a decade and advised Trump’s campaign in 2016 and the White House since.
During a debate Thursday night in the southwest Kansas town of Garden City, Kobach repeated a disputed claim that Kansas provides $377 million a year in welfare benefits and other services to immigrants living in the state illegally.
“And policies like that are why we have a caravan marching north to come to the United States, because we give out the goodies as soon as you come across the border,” Kobach said.
Kobach’s statement drew a mix of loud boos and cheers from the crowd, and his closing statement also was interrupted. His comments about immigration came in a wide-ranging debate on familiar campaign themes that included taxes, public school funding and other state spending.
Southwest Kansas has seen an influx of immigrants in recent decades, lured by agricultural jobs, particularly in meatpacking. Nearly half of Garden City’s 27,000 residents are Hispanic, according to census figures.
Both Democratic nominee Laura Kelly, a veteran state senator from Topeka, and independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman, suggested that Kobach’s hardline approach on immigration would hurt the state’s economy.
“So much of our economy, whether you’re talking about here in the southwest or across the state, depends upon quality immigrant labor,” Kelly said, adding that she’d push Congress for comprehensive immigration reform to “let people live in peace.”