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May 28th, 2023

shannon francis legislative luncheonKansas Representative Shannon Francis addresses a crowd at the Rock Island Depot Thursday. During the discussion, City Commisioners Janeth Vazquez and Jose Lara challenged Francis and State Senator Ron Ryckman for supporting a bill to stop human trafficking. L&T photo/Earl WattROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Kansas 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis and 38th District Senator Ron Ryckman were at the Depot Thursday to provide community members with the last of this year’s updates on the current legislative session.

While the audience was updated on several recently passed laws and some of the vetoes from Governor Laura Kelly that had been overridden, one particular piece of legislation had some more than a little worried.

House Bill 2350, which the Kansas Senate recently voted to override Kelly’s veto on, is a bill to ban human smuggling. Ryckman said while the governor and her allies attempted to make red herring arguments, the bill ultimately was quite simple.

“It criminalizes smuggling people in our state when a person knows a person is in the country illegally or is likely being exploited for financial gain,” he said. 

Ryckman said the bill provides law enforcement with an important tool to discourage this practice.

“On initial passage, HB 2350 passed both chambers with wide bipartisan majorities,” he said. “On the override, it passed the Senate 30-9. I voted yes because I believe in the rule of law, and our state should encourage compliance with our immigration laws.”

Two of Thursday’s audience members, Liberal Mayor Jose Lara and Commissioner Janeth Vazquez, though, had huge concerns about the bill.

“I care about my family,” Vazquez said. “I care about my community, my friends, and it’s something that’s going to target all of us. I know the intention of this bill is to combat smuggling, but there’s already a Kansas statute for it. I don’t understand why this bill was passed because it’s basically a replica of what Kansas already has. On top of that, it’s going to allow racial profiling.”

A clause in the bill, however, states clearly that, “A law enforcement officer or agency shall not consider a person’s race, color or national origin when enforcing this section.” That clause referred to the section above it, which states, “The determination of whether an alien has come to, entered or remains in the United States in violation of the law shall be made by the federal government pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1373(c). No state, county or local law enforcement officer shall independently determine whether an alien is present in the United States in violation of the law.”

Vazquez said she had spoken to members of law enforcement, who informed her the law could be interpreted as allowing officers to pull someone over for simply looking undocumented.

“How are you going to determine if someone is undocumented?” she said. “Is it based on their skin color? Is it based on the way they talk? I feel this is racial discrimination.”

Vazquez referred to communities in Florida where similar laws were passed, causing some undocumented individuals to leave that state, and now, she believes individuals in the local area are quite terrified with the new law now in place.

“I have had people come to me in tears asking me what this means for them,” she said. “At this point, it’s going to criminalize any of us who get in a car with an undocumented person. At this point, I don’t  walk around and ask people ‘Are you undocumented?’ That’s something we don’t talk about. That means if I give a person a ride to the store, I have now become subject to a felony up to 12 years in prison. How did me just giving somebody a ride who I care about or a friend make me a criminal?”

Francis said HB 2350 was supported by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Sheriffs Association, as well as other state law enforcement agencies.

“They all said there is a gap in our laws as far as human smuggling, and I think some of the concerns you raise really aren’t valid,” she said. “What it says is you have to intentionally transport, harbor or conceal an individual. You have to receive payment for that, and you have to know or be pretty sure they’re being exploited. If you give somebody a ride so they can be exploited, I think you have something to be concerned about, but if you’re helping your friend get to the insurance agency and you’re not getting paid for it, you’re not exploiting them, you don’t have any concerns.”

“If I give somebody a ride to work and they give me gas money or they give me a piece of gum, the attorney said they can use that as an excuse,” Vazquez said.

Francis said the people being targeted are those who take multiple undocumented individuals across the state for payment.

“I understand what the intention of the bill is,” Vazquez said. “My concern is it’s just so vague. I understand crimes are being committed. People need to be prosecuted. How am I a criminal for being somebody a ride without knowing they’re undocumented?”

Much of the arguments of Vazquez and Lara concerned traffic stops for potential human smuggling being done at the discretion of the officer in charge of the stop. Francis said stops throughout the state and country are commonly made in this manner.

“Human smuggling is a problem in our nation and state,” he said. “Law enforcement came up with this. They said this is a gap we need to fill, and I’m supportive of that. I don’t think we need to be allowing people of color to be exploited.”

Lara said his concerns mainly had to due with what he believed to be a specific targeting of undocumented individuals, as he recalled a law concerning municipal IDs passed in a recent legislative session.

“Undocumented people are not allowed to have those IDs, and you’ve stripped away the ability of cities to do that for their populations,” he said.

Francis said cracking down on human smuggling is important, as is giving law enforcement the tools they need to do it.

“That’s why the bill passed and why it was overridden,” he said.

Lara still said he did not like an officer having the discretion to charge someone with a crime.

“You have a tool for charging, not for finding,” he said. “There’s now one more charge he can apply, but he can apply many other charges to that person.”

Francis said lawmakers made their decisions based on the information they had.

“KBI, the sheriff’s association, law enforcement across the state doesn’t agree with your assessment on that,” he said.

With a large population of Latinos and Hispanics, many who may be undocumented, in Southwest Kansas, Lara said this makes the area an easy target for the new law.

“It is our area that has a very specific mix where this bill has more ability to be abused by  law enforcement agencies if they so choose,” he said.

Francis said regardless of the mixture of races, Kansas still has a human smuggling problem.

“Law enforcement said they needed this bill, so all of those things are things we have to take into consideration,” he said.

Vazquez said she found law enforcement leaders telling her the legislation could be used to target a person very disturbing.

Ryckman said the mix of occupations in the legislature, with everything from lawyers to economists and everything in between, many different viewpoints are aired in both state chambers.

“I cannot see any racial profiling how you’re seeing this,” he said. “If somebody is pulled over or giving a ride, that is not at all what this bill is supposed to be doing.”

Ryckman said his concern is the amount of smuggling and other crimes in both Kansas and the U.S.

“I had people in Topeka come to me and said they had a question with what you’re saying,” he said. “I took it to the lawyers. They said we don’t see this at all with what you’re saying. That’s why I made the decision. What is happening is a travesty. The two largest cartels, they’re in Kansas through our southern border. We have people from 140 different countries who are coming in. I did read the e-mails, yours and many other people, and that’s why I voted the way I voted.”

Seward County Commissioner and local pastor Presephoni Fuller said easier ways for undocumented people to become citizens would solve some of the problem.

“We can do what we can do to support them and to help them as much as possible,” she said.

Leader & Times Publisher Earl Watt said he understood motorists have to have committed a traffic violation such as speeding or not signaling a turn in order to be pulled over.

“That’s what gets you pulled over,” he said. “We know drugs go up and down these highways all the time. I don’t think it’s legal to pull someone over and say, ‘I pulled you over because I think you’re traveling with drugs.’ There has to be something else. This law doesn’t make it where you can pull someone over out of suspicion for something. Don’t they still have to do something else before they can get pulled over?”

Francis confirmed this is covered by Kansas Statute 22-4610, which the legislature passed in 2012.