As a heavy hitter in KLA, Shawn Tiffany has an immigration problem

In his Republican primary race for the Second District Congressional seat being vacated by Jake LaTurner, Shawn Tiffany has an immigration problem. 

The Council Grove cattlemen and former president of the Kansas Livestock Association – who in partnership with is brother finishes 75,000 head of cattle per year according to his campaign website– is towing KLA’s history of softball immigration lobbying into the primary in a state with strong feelings about illegal migrants and U.S. border issues. And he faces a leading opponent in former Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who led a veto-proof majority of state legislators as well as a  Democrat governor to push through a bill outlawing sanctuary cities in Kansas in 2022.

And while Joe Biden remains generally unpopular in Red-strong Kansas, his election year announcement of an executive action to protect hundreds of thousands of illegals married to American citizens from deportation, allowing them to be “paroled in place,” with 3 years to apply for permanent residency and eligibility for a 3-year work permit, has drawn more ire from conservatives nationwide.

Biden’s policy would dovetail with past positions pitched by Tiffany and KLA, which have sought ways to maintain and increase the mostly immigrant labor base of Kansas beef packing industry and other agricultural producers. KLA has described a shortage of labor in Kansas agriculture as a crisis in the industry which threatens availability of processed beef and the food supply. A Kansas State University study from November 2023 supported those claims, saying farm labor jobs are short between 5,600 and nearly 16,000 workers over 72 ag and ag-related sectors, from grain farming and landscaping to meat processing and snack food manufacturing.

Immigration’s role in filling those jobs and the broader implications in terms of crime and welfare costs which it entails are less defined, however.

Neither Tiffany nor KLA executive director Matt Teagarden would comment for this article, but a review of KLA legislative testimony and lobbyist partnerships with regard to migrant labor in Kansas reveals a general theme held by the organization – led in various roles by Tiffany as a major industry player and association stalwart – to keep migrant labor plentiful and unfettered in Kansas.

Beef carcasses hang in the sales cooler at the JBS beef plant in Greeley, Colo./National Public Radio

While KLA President in 2023, Tiffany led a KLA Cattle Feeders Council Meeting to press a continuation of KLA policy to oppose state legislative measures that would place higher restrictions on immigration policy than federal rules, and deferred immigration policy as the sole venue of the federal government according to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

That move came a year after Schmidt’s bill pushed against “sanctuary” jurisdictions, popularized by Left-leaning urban areas across the country which thumbed their noses at President Donald Trump’s federal efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants long before Biden’s border floodgates opened in 2021.

“The veto-proof bipartisan support for this bill in the Legislature demonstrated its importance,” Schmidt said in a statement at the time, “as the Biden administration continues its tragic failure to secure our southern border, jeopardizing public safety in our Kansas communities.”

“Under this new law, Kansas law enforcement will be able to resume working professionally with federal immigration authorities as the needs of public safety require and not be silenced by a patchwork of local ‘sanctuary city’ gag orders.” The bill, which Schmidt proposed, passed the Senate 29-10 and the House 84-38.

Schmidt’s bill didn’t directly collide with the KLA positions at the Cattle Feeders’ meeting, but they definitely eyeballed each other as they passed in different lanes. 

KLA’s language sounded like amnesty for those who entered the country illegally: “the Kansas Livestock Association supports federal immigration policy that allows for an efficient and adequate guest worker program, and provides opportunities for current employees found to be unauthorized workers to complete the immigration process legally.”

Other portions of the position statements sought to go easy on companies caught employing illegals: “… the Kansas Livestock Association opposes tougher penalties for businesses unknowingly employing unauthorized workers and supports legislation that eliminates liability for employers who have made a good faith effort to comply with immigration laws.”

The organization has pressed a liberal approach on immigration issues for more than a decade. In 2012 Kelly Maydew with the KLA submitted testimony in support of SB399, which would have created a state-sanctioned program to allow illegal workers to stay at or be hired into Kansas jobs. The same year Pat Mack, lobbying or the KLA and 19 other business and ag organizations as the “Kansas Business Coalition” supported measures to oppose mandated e-Verify – an Internet-based system that compares employee I-9 information to a database developed and maintained by Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to confirm employment eligibility.

U.S. Border Patrol agents patrol near the Rio Grande River./NBC News

Associate counsel for the KLA Tucker Stewart testified before the Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs in 2017 against SB157, which would have authorized the Kansas Highway Patrol to enforce federal immigration law, including detention and removals. The bill died in committee.

KLA joined with the Kansas Business Coalition again in 2018 to oppose an attempt to ban sanctuary cities, which also died in the Senate’s federal and state affairs committee, before Schmidt’s bill resurrected the effort.

As recently as this past April, current KLA Executive Director Matt Teagarden, as part of the American Business Immigration Coalition, lobbied U.S. Senate Democrats and the Biden Administration to extend work permits to illegals who are “long term members of American families.”

Jose Ibarra, accused in the brutal slaying of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley on the University of Georgia campus, has been formally indicted on murder and other offenses./New York Daily News photo

While Tiffany and the KLA have pushed a lighter hand in dealing with illegal immigrants, national media horror stories of crime and the massive domestic costs of the Biden open borders policy have forced their way into the headlines. Illegal immigrants are charged in the brutal rape and murders of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley. Two Venezuelan illegals are held in the rape and murder of a 12 year-old girl in Texas. U.S. Border Patrol says it stopped seven previously convicted sex offenders trying to slip the U.S. border with Mexico last weekend alone.

Investigators say 12 year-old Jocelyn Nungara of Houston, Texas, was raped and murdered by two illegal immigrants from Venezuela./Fox photo

Testimony from the Center for Immigration Studies delivered to the U.S. House Budget Committee in January estimated the illegal immigrant population at 12.8 million in January of this year, up 2.6 million since President Biden took office. An estimated 59% of illegal immigrant-headed households use one or more major welfare programs, compared to 39% of households headed by U.S.-born residents. That estimate yields some $42 billion in benefits, making illegal immigrant households, even those with working members paying some taxes, negative a fiscal impact on the nation.

How much impact Tiffany’s connection to KLA’s immigration stance will have on the 49 percent of polled Republicans who say they’re yet undecided in the race remains to be seen, but name recognition shows an advantage for Schmidt in current responses. A co/ poll taken in mid-May shows Schmidt, with higher name awareness in the district from his years as a legislator and state attorney general, holding favor with 44 percent of 1,517 likely Republican voters, compared to Jeff Kahrs with 4 percent and Tiffany at 3 percent. 

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.