Opinion Columns & Blogs

Gary Brunk: Kobach trying to spin record on immigration

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach recently defended his track record as a national proponent of anti-immigrant laws (“Kansas’ voter law isn’t the same as Arizona’s,” June 29 Opinion). He asserted that the anti-immigrant laws he’s authored and espoused across the country have done “remarkably well” in court. A review of these cases shows otherwise.

Kobach claimed a score of two wins, zero losses and two draws, proclaiming himself essentially undefeated. But Kobach and the anti-immigrant policies he promotes have been litigated in far more than four court cases.

Kobach conveniently excludes from consideration several failed lawsuits he brought challenging laws that promote immigrant integration, such as Kansas’ own law allowing in-state college tuition rates for all Kansas high school graduates. After a federal appeals court dismissed his lawsuit here, he filed a similar one against California’s in-state tuition law, which the California Supreme Court rejected unanimously.

For the cases he doesn’t simply ignore, Kobach obscures the results. For example, he called the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning provisions of SB 1070, Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant law – the hallmark of Kobach’s career – a “tie” even though the court struck down three of the four sections of the law that it reviewed.

Kobach would have us believe that the single provision the court allowed to go into effect was the only one that mattered. That is an astonishing assertion given that the ruling eviscerated the big idea Kobach has been developing for years – the notion that state penalties against immigrants are constitutional so long as they “mirror” federal laws. The Supreme Court, including Chief Justice John Roberts, said that this argument “ignores the basic premise” of key court decisions on immigration and is also “unpersuasive on its own terms.”

In the SB 1070 case, the Supreme Court struck down warrantless arrests of undocumented individuals, the criminalization under state law of work by the undocumented, and criminal punishments for immigrants who fail to carry immigration papers at all times. And the court limited the scope of the one provision it permitted, known as “show me your papers,” making it clear that the police cannot detain individuals just to inquire about immigration status.

In other words, much of the anti-immigrant law that put Arizona in the national spotlight has now been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Similarly, Kobach categorized the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Alabama’s HB 56 as a “draw” even though it, too, rebuked his fundamental approach. In one telling discussion, the court said: “We are convinced that Alabama has crafted a calculated policy of expulsion, seeking to make the lives of unlawfully present aliens so difficult as to force them to retreat from the state.” This is Kobach’s underlying theory of driving the undocumented to “self-deport,” which the court determined was unconstitutional.

Kobach’s faulty legal reasoning has brought only harm to communities that have relied on it. Yet he repeatedly asks Kansans to trust his expert legal opinion on controversial matters, whether it’s defending the voter-identification law he authored or advocating for more restrictive laws against immigrants.

Kansans deserve better. We should trust our own instincts instead, supporting commonsense immigration reform and integrating immigrants through sound policy.