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She says she spent years writing letters to the editor and to her congressional representatives, urging the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Then, in late 2003, she spotted an "As I See It" commentary in The Kansas City Star written by Joyce Mucci, who was then the organizer for a group called Mid-America Immigration Reform Coalition.
"Everywhere in America illegal aliens are enjoying the fruit of the taxpayer largesse," Mucci wrote. "Nowhere more so than right here in Kansas City."
Semler found Mucci's number and called her.
"Frances is like the rest of us," Mucci says. "She's involved because you shouldn't cheat your way into the country."
Mucci says the two quickly became friends, and Semler helped Mucci expand her collection of antiques. In 2005, Semler was among a handful of locals who gathered at Mucci's south Kansas City home to tape an interview with CNN — one in which Semler said, "I think we need to take a look at overall [immigration] policy and get a handle on it, maybe even stop it for a while until we can count everybody."
At least once during the 2006 legislative session, Semler traveled with Mucci to Jefferson City to lobby lawmakers. Mucci testified before the Missouri House Special Committee on Immigration Reform, but Semler stayed on the sidelines. "Mostly, when we're together, she's the person who listens a lot," Mucci says.
But she's not always the quiet one. "I chased Sam Graves up to, I think, a beef farm one time to talk about it [immigration] because I knew he'd be there," Semler said in a recent radio interview.
During the spring of 2006, as thousands of immigrants' rights activists took to the streets in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, Semler was among the organizers of a counter-protest that drew hundreds to Mill Creek Park.
"Her husband built the stage [for the rally]," Mucci says. "The guy's 70-some years old, and he built this stage for us and made it so we could put flags on either end. It was awesome. And she helped us get the state of Missouri flag and U.S. flag for us to put up there."
City Hall veterans, meanwhile, knew Semler for her efforts to uncover details about a local trade facility called SmartPort. The private project, to which the city has contributed more than $2 million, would ease trade with Mexico by turning a West Bottoms warehouse into an inland port where truckers could clear customs in Kansas City to avoid the bottleneck at the border.
Former Kansas City Councilwoman Bonnie Sue Cooper was a leading proponent of SmartPort and a booster for expanding trade with Mexico.
She was also Semler's councilwoman — and the recipient of Semler's requests for information filed through the state Sunshine Law. Semler and Mucci wanted copies of any documents related to SmartPort. Cooper says Semler seemed deaf to her explanations that SmartPort was a one-way warehouse sending American goods to Mexico, not the other way around.
"We could not make Frances understand that this is all southbound," Cooper says. "She kept talking about bringing all these Mexicans in. And I kept saying, 'We're not bringing any in.'"
Cooper says Semler also raised concerns about a supposed "superhighway" that right-wing immigration activists fear the federal government is already planning, which would drastically expand the Interstate 35 corridor.
"She kept talking about this highway being built from Mexico to Canada that would be eight football fields wide, and I said, 'Frances, we don't even have the money to fix I-70. What are you talking about?" Cooper recalls.