Editor’s Note: A diverse group of 10 Kansans from across the state started discussing the topics of immigration and demographic change with The Journal, KLC’s civic issues magazine, late last year. As part of their experience, they interviewed each other in pairs about their views and experiences related to immigration. The Journal is publishing highlights from their conversations.
Peggy Ruebke lives in Nickerson where she serves as mayor. In a conversation with Alba Gutierrez-Ortiz of Dodge City, she spoke about how difficult it can be to get people to be fully honest about their views on immigration, and to take a stand on those views.
What do you think is dividing us on this issue?
I asked a ton of people what their thoughts were on immigration. I’m one of those people, I like to listen to people. Find out their feelings or thoughts. But the one thing I have learned, especially in the last three years of being a mayor – people will tell you things to your face, but you turn around and you walk out of a room, and they’ll say something else.
For example, I’d asked an older gentleman at our local cafe what he thought about immigration. He goes, “Oh, we need to bring these people in. We need to get them help. We need to do these things.”
As soon as I left the room (I had another friend sitting at the table at the time), he was like, “We better just close those borders. We can’t let them be here.” I don’t know if it’s fear. I don’t know what caused him to basically say what I think he wanted me to know or what he thought I should know. I don’t know what the true answer is to it. I guess my view is we need to have better education. Most of these people want to become U.S. citizens. I think that would help. I’ve been told, “They don’t want to pay taxes.” Asking these questions in our small town has really opened my eyes to how people really talk. They say one thing, and then when it comes to doing it, it’s a little different.
I hear so many people say, “Well, we have to demand the people empower the elected officials to say that we want this immigration to just happen.” I will be honest with you. I’m up for reelection. And of course, I speak my mind. So it doesn’t really matter. All my citizens know this about me. But watching other politicians, they really struggle. Behind closed doors, they will say, “Well, I’m really for this, but if I vote that way, then I won’t get reelected.” Because people will tell you, “Oh, you need to have an immigration policy.” But then they’ll turn around and say, “I won’t reelect you if they do it.” And I think that’s wrong. I think that education is going to be our key factor but I don’t know what that education piece looks like.
Sign up for The Journal’s kickoff event on Aug. 17 and learn more about how you can join Ruebke in making the conversation about immigration and demographic change in Kansas and beyond healthier.
Read more in the Summer 2023 edition of The Journal, which will be published Aug. 10.