Politics & Government

Immigration bill could hurt Head Start in Kentucky, officials say

FRANKFORT — A bill that would make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to set foot in Kentucky could cost the state's Head Start programs millions of dollars, Head Start officials warned this week.

In a letter to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Head Start officials said that Senate Bill 6, which passed the Senate this month, could create problems for the federal pre-kindergarten program that serves 17,444 children in all 120 counties.

The bill has not been considered by the House, which will reconvene Feb. 1. House leaders, including Stumbo, have said it is doubtful that the Senate's immigration bill will pass the Democratic-controlled House. A recent legislative analysis says implementing the bill could cost the state as much as $40 million.

SB 6 would make it a crime for anyone to transport or assist an illegal immigrant and would create a state charge of trespassing if an illegal immigrant enters Kentucky.

Head Start officials cannot ask about immigration status, according to federal guidelines.

If they did ask a parent's immigration status, they could "face loss of federal grant funding for failure to abide by federal law. This would result in the loss of Head Start, Early Head Start and/or Migrant Head Start service to all children served by the grantee, as well as the loss of all Head Start jobs created by the grantee's funding," wrote Bob Wilcher, executive director of Kentucky Head Start Association.

Head Start employs 3,500 people in Kentucky.

Wilcher went on to say that he is concerned that Head Start employees or even bus drivers could be arrested for teaching or transporting illegal immigrants' children under the provisions in SB 6.

Stumbo, in a letter to House membership, said he was forwarding the information to House members so they would be aware of the possible problems associated with SB 6.

The state Senate passed several bills in the first four days of the legislative session in early January, which are typically reserved for organizational purposes.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, the sponsor of SB 6, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, could not be reached for comment.