In 2005 Kansas City native Michael L. Barrera became president and CEO of that national organization. His father, Richard Barrera, was one of 25 businessmen who started that Kansas City organization.48
Latinos also began to seek elected offices in Kansas. Jim Martinez, of Hutchinson, was the first Latino elected to a city council position in 1969. In 1970 he became mayor of that city.49 Similarly, D.C. Garcia was elected to the Garden City Council in 1970, before becoming mayor in 1974. In 1973 Paul Feleciano was elected to the lower house of the state legislature, before becoming a state senator in 1976. Currently, there are four Latinos in the state legislature, three Democrats and one Republican. Kansas Latino elected officials are also involved in national associations of Latino elected officials.
The Kansas native Janet Murgula, who began her political life as an aide in the U.S. Congress and in the White House, is currently the executive director of the National Council of La Raza. She is one of many Kansas Latinos who occupy leadership positions in the nation’s Capitol, both in government and in nongovernmental organizations. Many Kansans are found in the ranks of government and business management.
On May 1, 2006, as in other states, Kansas experienced some of the largest demonstrations in Kansas history. Migrants and those who embrace their cause walked off work to ask for migration reform. Migration and the presence of a large Spanish-speaking community have become a difficult political issue in Kansas.
In 2004 Governor Janet Sebelius signed into law legislation that enables illegal migrants who had graduated from Kansas high schools to pay in-state tuition, without being asked their immigration status. This law has, along with similar legislation in several other states, become a lightning rod for anti-immigration activists. University of Kansas law professor Kris Kobach is a prominent opponent of such legislation, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of federal law. Nonetheless, a legal challenge to the law was dismissed in July 2005, when a federal judge ruled that plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Several other judicial challenges to the law are still active.
Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican senator, was chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, where he shepherded legislation supporting refugee asylum cases. Senator Brownback cosponsored in 2003 an unsuccessful piece of legislation in the Senate known as the Dream Act, which would have provided the means for resident illegal migrants to pay resident tuition at institutions of higher education. Despite his strong conservative credentials, Senator Brownback has drawn the ire of many conservatives for his support of immigration legislation.
The Kansas state legislature has also taken on immigration. Besides unsuccessful efforts to overturn the state’s law guaranteeing in-state tuition for resident immigrants regardless of legal status, the legislature has considered legislation that both restricts employment and provision of government services to undocumented
migrants and requires proof of citizenship to vote. In March 2007 the legislature passed HB 2140, declaring English the official language of Kansas, with a margin of 114-7 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate, which requires government agencies to only provide services or published material in English, the only exceptions being those required by federal law. Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed the law into effect on May 11, 2007.
Republican Latino Representative Mario Goico was a prominent advocate of this English-only legislation. Born in Cuba, Representative Goico argued the importance of legislation to encourage migrants to learn English. If you want to better yourself, Goico is reported to have said, you’d better speak the English language. Professor Phillip De La Torre, of the University of Kansas Law School, came from Spanishspeaking parents and argued that the government should not dictate what language we speak. It seems to me we should be able to make that decision by ourselves.50 Most Latino advocacy organizations in Kansas were opposed to the legislation.