Kansas legislators expect next year to join the growing list of states trying to keep illegal immigrants out and to discourage businesses from hiring them. One of the top legal minds in that movement is about to take office as Kansas' secretary of state, and he said he's ready to advise lawmakers.

Kansas legislators expect next year to join the growing list of states trying to keep illegal immigrants out and to discourage businesses from hiring them. One of the top legal minds in that movement is about to take office as Kansas' secretary of state, and he said he's ready to advise lawmakers.


But strong opposition is expected from the state's business community, particularly the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Gov.-elect Sam Brownback also is cool to sweeping immigration proposals, preferring to focus on the state's budget woes and creating jobs.


The chamber's resistance creates an odd political dynamic in a Republican-leaning state with large GOP majorities in its Legislature and, soon, no Democrats in statewide elective office. Some legislators advocating the low-tax, small-government agenda favored by the chamber will be fighting the state's largest business group on immigration.


So far, the state chamber has prevailed. But advocates of get-tough measures like those instituted in Arizona believe they're tapping into national frustration with federal inaction and expect pressure to build on the Legislature after it opens its annual session and Brownback is sworn in Jan. 10.


"A few interest groups who are plugged into the legislative process can derail something," said Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, a law professor on leave who's gained national attention for working on immigration issues with legislators in other states. "But ultimately, I think you find that, in end, if the people of a state really want a statute, it eventually happens."


The Kansas Chamber has focused its opposition on proposals requiring employers to verify that workers are in the U.S. legally and fining companies or taking away their licenses if they hire illegal immigrants.


Chamber officials argue those laws can impose draconian punishments for unintentional mistakes. Kent Beisner, the Kansas Chamber's president and chief executive officer, also said if Kansas enacts rules and other states don't, Kansas will find it harder to attract and keep businesses.


"We want to be as competitive as we can be," Beisner said.


Many legislators saw the chamber as a big reason why Kansas' last attempt to enact a sweeping immigration law that included penalties for employers failed in 2008. The House and Senate were negotiating a final version but couldn't agree.


"There were at least a number of business interests that simply did not want to see any meaningful immigration reform bill that dealt with the employment issue," said state Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican who helped lead the push in 2008.


The nonprofit, Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 65,000 immigrants in Kansas were among the 11.1 million in the U.S. illegally in 2009. The center also estimates that 50,000 Kansas workers, about 3 percent of the total, are illegal immigrants. It says the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has dropped in the past few years.