The Topeka Capital Journal posted a picture on November 21 of immigration hardliner and (unofficial?) Trump advisor Kris Kobach. In his hand he held a leather portfolio – and his strategic immigration plan for Trump’s first 365 days in office. 

Perhaps, some theorized, he meant to leak his plan. The old litigator’s trick of priming the jury with something horrific to make the real slightly less horrific plan seem, well, less horrific. Perhaps he really was that careless.

It ultimately matters little. Put together with what he’s actually said, and his history of hardline immigration enforcement, we know where his mind is. We have a pretty good idea of what he will be urging President Trump to do. He’s expecting legal challenges to his plans. What he might not appreciate the razor focus his “leaked” plan provides to those who will be doing the challenging.

It’s a plan that targets immigrants, reversed engineered in typical Kobachesque fashion to ensnare as many as possible. Kobach’s M.O. is to create as many legal land mines that trigger deportation at the slightest touch. He knows the immigrant community. He knows how to play on people’s irrational fear of immigrants. He works with people who know the process of government rulemaking to push these misguided policies through. And he tailors his policies for the immigrant communities he targets.

I want to make this clear. Kobach is an anti-immigrant hardliner. He has allied himself with some of the most extreme nativist and anti-immigrant groups in the country – serving of counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) – the legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR (and its sister organizations, the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA) were all founded or nurtured by John Tanton, an avowed conservationist turned white nationalist who remained on the FAIR board for 32 years, until he mysteriously left 10 days after the New York Times reported about his deep connections to the three groups.

I am not saying Kobach is a “white nationalist.” But I don’t need to say it: he has adopted, promoted and defended policies with which white nationalists agree. There has been no Kobach policy that helps immigrants, or allays the fear in immigrant communities. 

He was a chief architect of NSEERS, a registry for certain Muslim male immigrants  in the wake of 9/11. 84,000 registered, 14,000 were placed in removal proceedings, and 3,000 were detained. Zero terrorism-related convictions. It was such an abject failure that the government itself suspended the program. Kobach advised Attorney General Ashcroft during the “liberal purge” of the Board of Immigration Appeals, when the entire pro-immigrant wing of the nation’s highest immigration court was pushed out.  He sued multiple times to try to deny in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, preferring to spend taxpayer money incarcerating people rather than educating them. He defended fear-driven ordinances sanctioning employment of and renting to undocumented immigrants. He designed Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law, S.B. 1070, requiring police to attempt to ascertain immigration status and criminalizing the act of not carrying identification. Now he wants to bring back NSEERS (or perhaps a bigger and badder version of it), reinstitute failed programs like 287(g), cut off all Syrian refugee resettlement, and shockingly designate anyone merely arrested for any crime as a priority for deportation. This facilitates racial profiling – because even if the charges don’t stick, an immigrant will find himself in removal proceedings. He adopts Trump’s “extreme vetting” – and takes it to mean that people from certain countries will be questioned about such things as support for “Sharia law” (itself a misnomer, leaving the non-workability aside) and the Constitution. Other pictures perhaps taken from a different angle, show that stopping non-citizens from voting is a major issue to Kobach, despite the blowback over Trump’s utterly unsubstantiated tweet that he would have won the popular vote but for the “illegal votes.” (Clinton’s popular vote lead currently stands at about 2.2 million.)

If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

Kobach has grown to wield enormous influence over these anti-immigrant policies. They have cost taxpayers millions in legal fees to defend, and countless more in wasted and misdirected efforts. This is the natural outgrowth of policies rooted in hatred and fear. 

It’s time to fight him. Advocates, lawyers, and like-minded people who understand where these policies are coming from can do a lot. Lawsuits can only take us so far with immigration issues. Immigration policy is born, lives and dies in the federal realm. It rarely ventures into the states, despite Kobach’s efforts to the contrary. Kobach has been waiting for an opportunity to affect change at the federal level. He’s going to go to town.

So he needs to be challenged in the courts, challenged in the halls of Congress, challenged in the public square. No longer can immigrant groups fight only for issues directly affecting them. It’s time for Muslims to fight for Dreamers and against deportation raids, and Latinos to fight against NSEERS and extreme vetting. It’s time for black Americans to fight for refugees from Syria and the Northern Triangle, and for white Americans to fight unchecked police power to arrest and detain immigrants. 

Tell Kobach his services are not needed, and that America is bigger than his immigrant-free fantasy.

Leave a Reply