It is hardly surprising that the newly elected Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, ran an election campaign which featured the baseless claim that “the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive” in the state. As a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes in detail, Kobach has built a long and varied career out of attacking immigrants; first in the Bush Administration, targeting legal immigrants from Muslim and Arab countries, and later as the architect of city ordinances and state laws targeting unauthorized, mostly Latino immigrants. Yet, while Kobach’s anti-immigrant initiatives have served to advance him politically and financially, virtually all of them have ended up being costly failures for which taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.
Since 2004, Kobach has served as senior counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI)—the legal arm of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). From this perch, Kobach has hired himself out to city councils across the country to write, and subsequently defend from lawsuits, ordinances that target unauthorized immigrants, the businesses that employ them, and the landlords who rent to them. As the SPLC reports, Kobach’s ordinances managed to pass in Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Valley Park, Missouri; and Farmers Branch, Texas in 2006—and another passed in Fremont, Nebraska in 2008.
However, none of these ordinances has held up in court and all have been the targets of costly lawsuits. According to the SPLC, Hazleton has accrued $2.8 million in legal fees, Valley Park has $270,000, Farmers Branch $3.7 million, and Fremont $750,000—all of which will be paid using local tax dollars. Moreover, passage of the ordinances has caused race relations to deteriorate dramatically in these communities, all too frequently culminating in hate crimes directed against Latinos. Businesses that cater to Latinos have suffered as well, with many of their customers moving out of town.
Kobach also has been wreaking havoc at the state level. He has worked closely with Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce not only in the crafting of the now-infamous S.B. 1070, but also in formulating a state legislative proposal to defy the U.S. constitution and deny U.S. citizenship to the native-born children of unauthorized immigrants. Most of S.B. 1070 has been blocked by a federal judge, and the state has accumulated over $1 million in legal fees trying to defend it against lawsuits. It is likely that Kobach’s effort to re-define birthright citizenship will also be a revenue-draining failure.
Then again, short-term success is not necessarily what Kobach has in mind as he crafts his bills and ordinances. IRLI director Michael Hethmon has described the work that he and Kobach do as “field tests” to determine the legality of various anti-immigrant strategies. In other words, the residents of Arizona—and Hazleton, and Farmers Branch—are merely test subjects. As the SPLC report notes, lawmakers in a growing number of communities are resisting Kobach’s anti-immigrant sales pitch and choosing not to take part in the costly experiment that he and the IRLI are conducting. Kobach’s track record of proven failure is less than inspiring, and the economic and social costs of his failures are too high for the cash-strapped states he uses as his testing ground.
Photo by Brandon Doran.