Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s appearance at an event opposing illegal immigration has drawn scrutiny from a national civil rights organization.
Kobach joined Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Houston on Saturday at a conference for the Remembrance Project, which highlights the stories of Americans killed by illegal immigrants.
Trump and Kobach both spoke at the event and met privately with the families of victims.
Kobach said he advocated in his speech that the federal government should withhold aid to “sanctuary cities” that do not prosecute people for being here illegally. He noted that Trump supports withholding aid.
The appearance was criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said in an e-mail that the group “is run by an extremist who wildly exaggerates the number of people killed in America by undocumented immigrants.”
The center, which tracks hate and extremist groups, published a blog post on Monday disputing statements from the Remembrance Project’s national director, Maria Espinoza, that each day 25 U.S. citizens or legal residents are killed by illegal immigrants.
The center said no government body keeps track of the total number of killings by illegal immigrants. It called Espinoza’s number “wildly improbable” and said that would “mean that 3.5% of the population was responsible for 64% of the murders in the United States.” It said Espinoza was trying to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center, said Kobach’s attendance at the event is concerning because Kobach “is a high government official who in Kansas actually has some law enforcement powers, and he is legitimizing this woman’s absolutely false claims about immigrants.”
Asked about the center’s criticisms, Kobach called the Southern Poverty Law Center “a shameful organization that peddles in lies.”
He said it is idiotic for the center “to speak ill of these families who have lost loved ones.”
Potok said in a phone call that he is not criticizing the families nor dismissing their tragedies but that he thinks “the families are being used in order to make a claim that is not true, and that has the effect of demonizing millions of people.”
This is not the first time the center has raised concerns about Kobach’s activism on immigration policy. In 2015, it criticized his attendance at an event hosted by The Social Contract Press, a group it also considers extremist.