Agriculture and immigration are underlying factors in virtually every aspect of life in southwestern Kansas. At Saturday's town hall meeting at the Dodge City Senior Center, citizens emphasized the urgent nature of those topics to First District Congressman Roger Marshall.

More than 80 people braved the cold Saturday morning to voice their concerns to the first-term representative.   

Immigration and reform of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was the focus of much of public comment. Reform of the DACA policy has stalled in Washington, with President Donald Trump saying the issue is likely "dead" after talks last week disintegrated into partisan positioning. Trump continues to insist on linking DACA reform to funding for a border wall as well as laws ending chain migration and the visa lottery, and leaders from both sides of the aisle persist in attaching other immigration issues to the bill. Area residents, however, expressed dismay over what is generally viewed as a simple issue.

Sara Howard of Dodge City said she finds it hard to understand why the DACA debate gets convoluted in Congress.

"I don't see why they're making it so hard for them," Howard said. "It is very frustrating. (Congress) shouldn't put so many things into DACA. They need to focus on one thing without having to do everything together because it's just not going to happen that way."

Under current DACA policy, minor children brought into the country by their parents would lose their immigration status upon reaching age 18 and therefore face deportation. Fred Dierksen, Unified School District 443 superintendent, commented on the dire need for protection for DACA kids in Dodge City.

"I want to make sure you and Washington D.C. understand the impact it would have on a community like ours," Dierksen said. "It would be detrimental to a high degree. We have wonderful people who are here for the right reasons and followed the laws as they knew them. Now that's trying to be changed and that's creating a concern that's of high magnitude."

Marshall estimates that Kansas is home to about 3,000 DACA participants who were brought to America as minors by parents or other family members. He supports border security first and foremost, but also wants to see the DACA policy fine-tuned separately from the immigration issue as a whole.

"This is a unique group of individuals that are in this country right now," he said. "I think we have to be careful. I don't want to break up families... at the same time I don't want to reward people who did something illegally. The solution within the DACA group may be different than the immigration solution in the overall immigration process. So there's always these dials we're trying to tweak."

Trump at one point indicated that he might call for higher border taxes to generate funds for a border wall. While the president has in recent days appeared to soften his rhetoric concerning Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement, ag producers in southwest Kansas remain a bit leery of any potential changes. Mexico is the number one importer of Kansas dairy and corn, and along with Japan, the biggest buyer of Kansas beef.

Marshall said he while definitely wants border security, he wants to see NAFTA policy toward Mexico continue as is. "I'm not supportive of adding any type of tariff," he said. "We're the second-most NAFTA-dependent district in the country. NAFTA is a priority to us and we're working very hard to maintain it."
    
Federal agriculture policy and the upcoming farm bill also drew attention from residents. In May President Trump proposed cutting $46.5 billion in federal agriculture funding - mostly through installing caps on the amount of money the government chips in for crop insurance. Currently there are no limits to federal support to farmers for insurance premiums.

Trump sounded more amenable toward crop insurance in an early-January speech, saying he would support an agriculture bill that includes subsidies for crop insurance.

Greg Ruehle, president and CEO of Servi-Tech said farm bill reauthorization and maintaining current crop insurance policy affects the agricultural industry in a broad way - from farmers to bankers to feed and implement sales.

"As you talk to farmers and related business, it's stability," Ruehle said. "It's finding a level of stability and support that they can count on. The crop insurance program continues to establish itself as the basis for that safety net."

Marshall sits on the House Agriculture Committee and said he was greatly disappointed that Congress failed to get the ag bill completed prior to its winter break. Ruehle and Marshall both point out that the farm bill is seeing broad support, but timely implementation is being bogged down by the largest number of proposed bills in the history of Congress.

"The ag bill does expire," Ruehle said. "It does have sunset provisions that then revert back to pretty draconian policies. Getting more attention on this in the near-term really is the critical next step."

"I'm working hand-in-hand with Senator (Pat) Roberts," Marshall said. "We're geared up. We've had over 110 hearings on the farm bill. This is why you sent me to Washington. The number one issue I need to make sure gets taken care of this spring is the farm bill."  

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com