Kansas City Council’s new ‘Language Access’ office for immigrants straddles line of illegality under Missouri law, councilman worries

The Kansas City Council Thursday voted to spend $900,000 to vastly expand language translation services for immigrants, some of whom may be here illegally.

The ordinance creates the Office of Language Access, which is expected to include at least four staffers and, proponents hope, will quickly grow to cost $1.5 million.

It passed 12-1.

Worried the ordinance could violate Missouri law banning sanctuary city policies, First District Councilman Nathan Willett voted against it. He had proposed an amendment directing the city and anyone working on its behalf to stay within that law, but his amendment failed 3-10, with only fellow Northlanders Kevin O’Neill and Wes Rogers joining Willett.

Missouri revised statute 67.307 says, in part:

“No municipality shall enact or adopt any sanctuary policy. Any municipality that enacts or adopts a sanctuary policy shall be ineligible for any [monies] provided through grants administered by any state agency or department until the sanctuary policy is repealed or is no longer in effect.”

Willett told The Heartlander it’s unclear from the ordinance itself whether it is aimed at aiding illegal immigrants, which would violate the law; he said the key will be in its implementation.

Willett says he doesn’t oppose translation services for navigating city documents and services. But he said the sudden expansion of the city’s patchwork of translation services is “trying to go from zero to 100 without even evaluating it.” He tells The Hearlander he would’ve been more in favor of a $250,000 allocation that was originally floated.

In a statement issued immediately after the vote, Willett explained:

I support language access and strengthening city communications. However, I am against using city tax dollars to violate state law. Unfortunately, my amendment to ensure the newly established office follows state ‘sanctuary city’ policies failed. This may put Kansas City and the Northland in jeopardy of [not] receiving grants from state agencies going forward.

“Why was my proposed amendment important? The groups who led the community engagement in establishment of the ‘Office of Language Access’ have previously encouraged people to not comply with federal and state law regarding immigration. It is important that the city sets the directive for the new office to comply with state law so that state funding is not at risk. I’m disappointed that my colleagues are willing to jeopardize state funding coming to our city for important services.”

Two left-wing groups, KC Tenants and Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, have been instrumental in the ordinance passed Thursday.

“[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] collaboration in Kansas is NOT acceptable,” AIRR_KC once posted in a social media post.

“We educate, organize, and inspire the faith community to advocate for immigrant rights and reconciliation,” the organization describes itself on X.

The Office of Language Access ordinance directs the city manager “both to submit amended budget proposals to fund such office and to report to Council within 90 days on the development of a comprehensive and equitable language access plan to guide the functions of this office.”

According to the Kansas City Beacon, “Spanish- and Swahili-speaking residents can participate in a trial run during this year’s budget hearings. If it goes well, it may become standard.

“The budget’s transmittal letter – written by the city manager to summarize the budget and highlight key elements – will be translated into both Spanish and Swahili. So will flyers advertising this year’s hearings. Attendees will be able to reserve an interpretation device so that the budget discussion can be translated in real time to one of those two languages.”

The state statute on sanctuary cities allows any citizen to sound the alarm on a policy they think might violate that law, and a state legislator to then seek the state attorney general’s opinion on its legality:

“Upon the complaint of any state resident regarding a specific government entity, agency, or political subdivision of this state or prior to the provision of funds or awarding of any grants to a government entity, agency, or political subdivision of this state, any member of the general assembly may request that the attorney general of the state of Missouri issue an opinion stating whether the government entity, agency, or political subdivision has current policies in contravention of this section.”


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