Immigration

Will this man have a hand in Donald Trump’s immigration policy?

President-elect Donald Trump greets Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, at the clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J.
President-elect Donald Trump greets Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, at the clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. The Washington Post

The mere mention of Kris Kobach elicits fears and fury among immigrant rights activists who view him as anti-immigrant and a racist. But among activists who oppose undocumented immigrants, Kobach is a hero and viewed as someone bent on protecting Americans from foreigners who are not authorized to be in the United States.

Though there has been no announcement from President-elect Donald Trump, it's understood that his transition team is considering Kobach — the Kansas secretary of state — for a job dealing with immigration.

Kobach, 50, met Trump for less than an hour on Nov. 20, apparently to talk about an appointment or nomination in the next administration.

A statement from the transition team said Trump and Kobach had discussed border security, international terrorism and reforming the federal bureaucracy.

No one has said what job would be offered to Kobach, but some immigration activists have speculated that it could be head of the Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

When Kobach arrived in New Jersey to see Trump last month, he unwittingly provided a glimpse of his interest immigration matters. The front page of a document he was carrying contained a list of apparent proposals he might have discussed with Trump.

The first proposal, according to reports, was to bar the entry of potential terrorists into the country through the resumption of a program that would require the registration and tracking of foreigners from "high-risk areas."

The program mentioned in the document Kobach carried was NSEERS, an acronym for National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, implemented by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and then deactivated in 2005.

Kobach helped design NSEERS when he worked for Attorney General John Ashcroft after the 9/11 attacks. Kobach had spoken of starting such a plan in an interview with Reuters after Trump's election triumph in which he also noted that the new president would move quickly to build the wall along the Mexican border.

Kobach is not someone widely known by the public, but his name is instantly recognized by immigration activists. He had been a legal adviser at Immigration law Reform Institute, which is linked to the Federation for American Immigration Reforms, or FAIR.

FAIR is one of at least three organizations that seek both an end to illegal immigration and tighter controls on legal immigration. The other two are NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, or CIS.

"Mr. Trump's pro-border, pro-enforcement message will very likely discourage new illegal immigration and encourage illegal immigrants currently in the country to return home," said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for CIS.

For its part, FAIR issued a statement praising Trump for his intentions on the border and undocumented immigrants.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Kobach grew up in Topeka, Kansas, where his father ran a car dealership.

After high school, Kobach went to Harvard, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in government. While at Harvard, his interest in immigration began when he met professor Samuel Huntington. In 2005, the professor published the book “Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity,” which upset immigrant rights activists because he cast the growing Hispanic population as a threat to what he described as the traditional Anglo-Protestant culture of America.

After Harvard, Kobach went to Oxford and then to Yale LawSchool.

After an interlude as a constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kobach in 1999 was elected councilman in Overland Park, Kansas.

Days before the 9/11, attacks, Kobach traveled to Washington to become a White House intern. From there he was sent to the Justice Departament where he went to work on issues related to immigration and border security for Ashcroft.

When his internship ended, Kobach continued his work for Ashroft and help draft the first version of NSEERS, the registration system for nationals of Muslim countries.

In an interview in 2015 with the Wichita Eagle, Kobach said his interest on immigration grew as a result of the 9/11 attacks and how the terrorists took advantage of loopholes to stay in the country.

"All of them came in legally, but then five of the 19 (hijackers) became illegal at some point during their stay," Kobach told the Wihita Eagle. "They successfully abused our immigration system, and much of my time at the Justice Department was occupied in trying to plug the holes that they exploited in our system."

After he joined the Immigration law Reform Institute, Kobach began trying to persuade certain municipalities to adopt ordinances aimed at curbing the activities, movements and presence of undocumented immigrants.

One of the first communities Kobach influenced was Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

In 2006, the Hazleton city council approved ordinances, which published reports have linked to Kobach, that cracked down on illegal immigration by forcing landlords to deny rentals to undocumented immigrants and employers not to hire unauthorized migrants.

The ordinances were challenged in court and in 2007 a federal judge threw them out as unconstitutional. Hazleton appealed, but the appeals court upheld the judge. Later the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

In 2010, Kobach drew media attention when he helped draft laws backed by then Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to tighten controls against undocumented immigrants in the state.

S.B. 1070 turned illegal presence by an undocumented immigrants, currently a civil infraction, into a criminal offense, and empowered police officers to ask people about their immigration status.

Months later, a federal judge stripped the law of most of its teeth except police inquiries about immigration status. That ruling was subsequently ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2011, Kobach took office as Kansas' new secretary of state.

In that job, Kobach supervises the state's election system and has sought to tighten requirements claiming that undocumented immigrants could exploit loopholes and cast illegal ballots.

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