By Laura Meckler, WSJ
Conservatives rally behind architect of Arizona’s controversial immigration measure as a check against uncertainty over president-elect’s positions
Conservative immigration groups are pushing the incoming Trump administration to create a top White House post for Kris Kobach, a crusader against illegal immigration who was passed over for secretary of Homeland Security.
Mr. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, has built a national reputation as an immigration hard-liner and like-minded interest groups want him to become a voice inside the administration pushing the new president to keep controversial promises made during his campaign. He has met with President-elect Donald Trump at least twice since the election.
“Hiring Kris Kobach is a litmus test as to whether this administration is serious about meeting its commitments,” said Dan Stein, president of the group Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes increased legal as well as illegal immigration. “We’re advocating for a central role for him in the administration.”
While he holds office in Kansas, Mr. Kobach is well known in national immigration circles. Most notably, he was the architect of Arizona’s controversial law requiring law-enforcement officials to ask anyone they suspected was in the U.S. illegally for their documentation and otherwise amping up state enforcement of immigration law. He also was behind lawsuits challenging President Barack Obama’s executive actions offering millions of illegal immigrants safe harbor from deportation.
The conversations come as people on both sides of the immigration debate are unsure where Mr. Trump will land on some key questions. He built his campaign on opposition to illegal immigration and a promise to build a wall along the Mexican border, but has delivered mixed messages since Election Day.
He has said the promised border wall could be a fence in some places, and on Friday morning, he seemed to acknowledge in a Twitter message that the project would require upfront U.S. spending, though he said it would be “paid back by Mexico later.” He named a supporter of liberalized immigration policy as his Labor secretary. And he said that “we’re going to work something out” for more than 700,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and won protections under an Obama program that the president-elect has promised to kill.
Some immigration opponents view Mr. Kobach as insurance that Mr. Trump will hew closer to his campaign promises. Mr. Kobach wasn’t available to take questions for this article, and the Trump transition team didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Beyond a White House post, another option being promoted by conservative immigration groups is to appoint Mr. Kobach to a senior role at Homeland Security, the department where immigration agencies are housed.
In November, during a photo-op with Mr. Trump, Mr. Kobach was holding a proposed plan for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of it was legible in the photo. Proposals included reintroducing the registry, adding “extreme vetting questions” for “high-risk aliens” and reducing acceptance of Syrian refugees to “zero.”
But there is some question as to whether Mr. Kobach’s hard-line record could pose problems in winning Senate confirmation. Mr. Kobach is also one of the leading advocates for tougher voter requirements and proponent for the notion that there is significant voter fraud by illegal immigrants and others. Pro-immigration groups are already working to stoke concerns about him among GOP allies in the chamber.
It’s also unclear whether Mr. Kobach, who is considering running for Kansas governor in 2018, would accept a deputy spot. A spokeswoman confirmed that he is looking at the gubernatorial race but declined to comment on options for joining the Trump administration.
Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a grass-roots anti-immigration group, said the advantage of a White House post is that it allows one person to oversee work on immigration across the federal departments, including Justice, Labor and State as well as Homeland Security.
“It really makes sense to have somebody there at the White House that is coordinating this, paying attention, and asking questions of each of these departments, and making sure what they are doing is all working toward the promises Trump has made to the American people,” Mr. Beck said.
Mr. Kobach has a long record as an immigration activist. During the Bush administration, he helped create a registration program for Muslim men coming into the U.S. That program, which had been dormant since 2011, was formally dismantled last month.
As an attorney, he represented immigration agents who filed suit to stop the 2012 Obama administration program protecting young illegal immigrants from deportation. The case was dismissed, but he later helped Texas and other states successfully sue to block the 2014 Obama program offering similar protections to undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said his group would pressure senators to oppose Mr. Kobach if he is nominated to a post that requires confirmation.
“Putting Kris Kobach anywhere near the reins of power would be the clearest sign yet that Donald Trump plans to aggressively pursue his radical agenda of deporting millions of immigrants, registering Muslims in America and mainstreaming noxious and extremist ideas about race, religion and the foreign born,” he said.
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