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Kris Kobach’s Latest Crusade: Attacking Undocumented Students for Rising Tuition Costs

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Kris Kobach — Kansas’ Secretary of State, Donald Trump’s co-conspirator on voter fraud, and longtime anti-immigrant demagogue — is one of the country’s worst restrictionists. This year, he’s running for Governor of Kansas, and has been making his long history of anti-immigrant politics the centerpiece of his campaign. Most recently, Kobach has been attacking Kansas’ in-state tuition laws for Dreamers and campaigning on the false accusation that undocumented students are to blame for rising tuition costs.

Kansas’ 2004 in-state tuition law allows all students who attended their last three years of high school in Kansas, regardless of their immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition cost at public colleges and universities. The students who qualify are Dreamers, determined to achieve bright goals for themselves and their families. Yet Kobach is trying to demonize them, in a way that doesn’t even make mathematical sense.

In 2017, 670 undocumented Kansans, or 0.37 percent of all students enrolled that year according to the Kansas Board of Regents, paid in-state tuition rates. Kobach somehow claims that this cost Kansas taxpayers $4 million dollars. However:

  • These students are paying the same rate as their peers, and tax dollars are not being spent to send them to school.
  • Second, if all of the 670 students paid the higher non-resident tuition, it would only raise $2.3 million, about half of Kobach’s assessment.
  • Third, the Regents have predicted that total tuition revenue in 2019 will be $756 million, which means that Kobach’s $4 million number, even if true, would be less than one percent of all tuition revenue.
  • Fourth, many undocumented students don’t pursue higher education when they must pay out-of-state costs, which means that getting rid of the in-state tuition bill might reduce overall tuition revenue.

Even Kobach has acknowledged that some of his logic is lacking. “You can’t solve the problem of tuition hikes across the board in Kansas higher education just by stopping in-state tuition for illegal aliens. It is a much bigger issue than that,” Kobach admitted to the Wichita Eagle after being pressed on the issue.

Kobach, of course, is being intentionally divisive. Like his former boss, Trump, he’s not after better policies or solutions. He’s trying to make higher education a wedge issue so he can get himself elected.

The Kansas law, however, has enjoyed constant bipartisan support from Kansas state legislators, who blocked a recent legislative effort — championed by Kobach — to end in-state tuition. Student leaders at Kansas University and the student senate at Wichita State University have made strong statements pushing back on Kobach and defending their classmates. Even the local Archbishop, Joseph Naumann, has gotten involved: “we fear that this legislation will have little effect except to make certain young people’s lives more difficult,” he said.

Kobach has been targeting undocumented students for over a decade. Kobach was first hired to challenge the Kansas in-state tuition law in 2004, by the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — an anti-immigrant organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. FAIR was founded by the white nationalist John Tanton, who believed in eugenics and racial superiority. Kobach’s lawsuit against in-state tuition failed in Kansas, though FAIR went on to pay him to challenge similar laws in Nebraska and California.

If Kobach wins the Kansas Republican primary on August 7, more unfounded attacks on undocumented students and immigrants are sure to follow.