Kris Kobach: A Portrait of President-elect Trump’s Immigration Advisor

Kris Kobach

Kris Kobach, President-elect Donald Trump’s top immigration advisor, is the subject of a profile in The New Yorker this week. Kobach is under consideration for appointment as Secretery of Homeland Security.

Kobach has devoted more than fifteen years to trying to make life unbearable for immigrants. An ideologically driven ally of hate groups, Kobach has worked in and out of government to craft laws targetting immigrants, Latinos, and Asians.

Kobach was the brain behind Mitt Romney’s proposal to have immigrants “self-deport’ from the United States. While “self-deportation” was mocked as naive, it was a serious proposal to, as The New Yorker puts it, “make life so unrelentingly difficult for immigrants that they’d have no other choice.”

According to The New Yorker:

Kobach is fifty years old, and is a graduate of Harvard, Yale Law School, and Oxford, where he received a doctorate in political science. (Kobach declined to comment for this story.) While serving in the Justice Department after 9/11, he helped create a national registry to track immigrants from countries with a “high risk” of terrorism—an effort that resulted in zero terrorism prosecutions but put nearly fourteen thousand people in deportation proceedings. In 2003, Kobach left the federal government. He taught law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, but he wanted greater influence as an advocate, so he also took a position as a lawyer with an arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a “hate group.”

Kobach is the leading advocate of state and local enforcement of immigration laws. According to The New Yorker:

The federal government sets immigration-enforcement policy, but Kobach’s approach was to make municipal and state governments vehicles for draconian new initiatives. In recent years, he was involved in either drafting or defending sweeping anti-immigrant legislation passed in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah, as well as local ordinances in cities and towns in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Nebraska. These measures all relied on a legal theory known as “inherent authority,” which Kobach has used to argue that local and state officials have the power to enforce national immigration laws if they believe the federal government has been too lax.

Although Kobach was billed as the genius of the anti-immigrant right, he was surprisingly ineffective as a lawyer. The New Yorker says:

When it came to making the case for the measures in court, however, Kobach lost much more often than he won. In Hazleton, Pennsylvania, he argued in defense of an ordinance passed in 2006 that made it illegal for local landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants. Last week, I spoke to Witold Walczak, the legal director of the Pennsylvania A.C.L.U., which sued the city to block the measure. “Kobach was supposed to be this great legal mind,” he told me. “I was told, ‘It’s all over now. Kobach is coming to defend the ordinance.’ ” But Kobach lost badly before the judge.

Kobach kept pushing anti-immigrant laws that had already been found to be unconstitutional:

Kobach’s long game may have had less to do with creating legal precedent than it did with sowing social discord. According to the Migration Policy Institute, between July, 2006, and July, 2007, a hundred and eighteen proposals similar to Hazleton’s came up for consideration in towns across the country. This was how self-deportation was supposed to become a reality—if you put immigrants in the center of a raging populist debate at every level of state and local government, life got ugly for them. Walczak told me that the policy fight in Hazleton prompted a number of violent incidents, including threats made against the town’s immigrant community. “It was all about scapegoating,” he told me. “Rocks were thrown through the windows of stores owned by immigrants.”

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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