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June 14th, 2021

ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

The demand for citizenship and immigration services in Western Kansas far outpace services provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices in Kansas City, Mo., and Wichita.

Kansas First District Congressman Tracey Mann and U.S. Senators Dr. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran sent a letter to officials with the USCIS, stating more than 50 percent of the patrons seen at the Wichita office come from Western Kansas and neighboring states Oklahoma and Colorado.

“The population of the southwest region of Kansas is comprised of a uniquely high concentration of immigrants,” the letter said. “In fact, 2019 Census data shows nine of the top 10 Kansas counties with the highest percentage of foreign-born people are located in Southwest Kansas. In the three most populated counties in the region, more than one in four are foreign born. Towns across this region have embraced immigrants as a vital part of the community and workforce, and because of this, the numbers of foreign-born individuals looking to call Southwest Kansas home continues to grow.”

To meet this growing need, the letter said in 2014, the Wichita field office began providing temporary mobile services three times per year in Southwest Kansas in Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal.

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“To date, those services have conducted more than 700 citizenship interviews and 1,800 biometrics appointments, in addition to separate citizenship ceremonies where more than 300 individuals have been naturalized,” the letter said. “Those services have proven to be incredibly beneficial, albeit insufficient. Conversations with local government officials, various local employers and immigrants have revealed the mobile service appointments are filled quickly and the need far exceeds the temporary services. Furthermore, the mobile services have not included InfoPass appointment, which are in high demand and address urgent cases, such as the death of a family member overseas, residents needing a permit to travel or an extension of permanent residency.”

The letter went on to say the limited mobile services available place logistical and financial hardships on individuals in Southwest Kansas who are in need of immigration services.

“The closest field office in Wichita is, on average, nearly a three and a half hour drive from two of the largest cities in Southwest Kansas, while the field office in Kansas City, Mo., is more than a six-hour drive,” the letter said. “The majority of these immigrants are employed in the agriculture industry, which certainly does not operate within normal Monday through Friday business hours.”

The letter said this forces individuals to take one or two days off work, arrange transportation and child care and incur additional expenses to travel to these field offices.

“In order to create and maintain an efficient legal immigration system, citizenship and immigration services must be reasonably available,” the letter said. “We believe these barriers can be eliminated with a field office in Southwest Kansas. The need for these services is so great that one local municipality has offered to provide office space and utilities without charge to USCIS in order to have convenient services for their regional community.”

The letter added the catchment area for the proposed field office would extend beyond Kansas’ borders.

“Immigrant people of the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, as well as eastern Colorado and New Mexico, would benefit from a field office within a more convenient distance,” the letter said.

The letter concluded by encouraging USCIS officials to give serious consideration to the request for a field office in Southwest Kansas.

“As you consider, we invite the leadership – both from the headquarters in Washington D.C. and from District 15 – to visit the region with us to hear first-hand from both employers and immigrants who would benefit from a regional field office,” the letter said. “We believe the demand would be evident.”

Janeth Vazquez, who teaches citizenship locally at Seward County Community College, praised the work of the federal lawmakers.

“I am extremely proud of our congressman and senators for advocating for our immigrant communities in Southwest Kansas,” she said. “This truly makes me Kansas proud.”

Vazquez agreed with the three legislators, saying there is a big need for additional immigration services in the area.

“As a citizenship instructor, I see first-hand all of the obstacles my students have to go through to obtain citizenship and immigration services,” she said. “Many of my students have to take time off work, arrange transportation and incur additional expenses to get to their appointment. It is not easy and adds more stress to the process.”

For this reason, Vazquez said a field office in Southwest Kansas would eliminate a lot of these barriers.

“I am very happy our congressman and senators have identified a need and are doing everything in their power to bring awareness to this issue,” she said. “I would like to say thank you to this group of outstanding leaders who are advocating for our immigrant communities in Southwest Kansas. An immigration field office in Southwest Kansas will truly impact many lives. It would be a true blessing.”

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