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Immigration 101: Who is Kris Kobach

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Published June 22, 2018; updated August 15, 2018

Kris Kobach is Kansas’ current Secretary of State and Republican candidate for Kansas Governor, and an anti-immigrant extremist who has  served as the xenophobic right’s lawyer for more than a decade. He is known for his connections to some of the worst-of-the-worst anti-immigrant zealots, his role pushing anti-immigrant legislation across the land, and his crusades in favor of voter ID restrictions. Despite numerous failures such as pushing bills that end up costing millions in legal fees, and demagoguery about voter fraud despite a complete lack of proof, Kobach continues to “fail up” and remains one of the major figures in the GOP on immigration and voter suppression.

As the New York Times editorial board wrote recently, “Kris Kobach is the GOP at its worst.” We’re inclined to agree.

Here’s Kobach in summary:

  • 2018 Governor’s race
  • Anti-immigrant legislation
  • Voter ID restrictions
  • Connections to extremely anti-immigrant figures
  • Long history in anti-immigrant politics

The improprieties swirling around Kobach’s primary election win

In August 2018, Kobach became the Republican nominee for Kansas governor, beating out the state’s current governor Jeff Colyer by a razor-thin margin of just a few hundred votes. Colyer’s concession came a week after the state primary and despite a number of reported irregularities and improprieties in the voting process.

Kobach, as Secretary of State, also served as Chief Elections Officer, a clear conflict of interest that he had to be pressured to recuse himself from. The duty of overseeing election results, however, was then turned over to his close assistant, Eric Rucker, despite the obvious tie to Kobach and the fact that Rucker once donated $1,000 to Kobach’s campaign. Reporting problems and multiple voting discrepancies arose in the week after the primary, including reports that some Colyer voters were forced to vote on provisional ballots or were turned away for unknown reasons. A Colyer spokesman said that Kobach’s office had told county clerks to disregard ballots with smudged postmarks. And Kobach blamed the close margin on noncitizen voters, despite (as always) a complete lack of evidence and Kobach’s own problematic role in affecting the election count. Read more about Kobach’s disputed primary here and here.

Kobach was the source for anti-immigrant bills like Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56

Kobach perhaps first made national headlines for his role as the architect of anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56. Starting in the mid-2000s, Kobach essentially acted as a traveling salesman to cities and states that wanted to pass anti-immigrant bills — except that he wrote legislation so poorly that the localities he worked with were inevitably sued and invariably lost money.

With the support of the John Tanton’s network (more about that below), Kobach wrote bills that prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants, forced police to help deport them, demanded utilities stop serving them, implemented random and racist ID checks, and more. When his laws were found unconstitutional, the localities he worked with were left with huge legal bills (though he walked away handsome profits in legal fees).

Kobach initially started with a number of small towns:

During the Obama Administration, Kobach “graduated” to statewide legislation:

  • Kobach wrote Arizona SB 1070, the “show me your papers law.” A report found that S.B. 1070 in its first year alone cost an estimated $253 million in economic output, $9.4 million in tax revenues, and 2,761 jobs.
  • Kobach also wrote Alabama HB 56, an even more extreme version of Arizona’s law. Samuel Addy from the University of Alabama estimated that HB 56 could cost 70,000 jobs and a $20 million loss in local sales tax collections.

Kobach as a champion of voter suppression

Kobach has also been a leading champion of the myth that voter fraud is rampant and requires a crackdown. In 2011, he implemented a strict voter ID law in Kansas. After Donald Trump was elected, Kobach again made national headlines when Trump appointed him the head of his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which disbanded just eight months later due to lack of evidence. The overwhelming consensus from election experts and studies is that voter fraud is extremely rare to the point of insignificance. Kobach, however, continues to demagogue on this mythical problem, even blaming noncitizen voters for his razor-thin primary election victory in Kansas, despite the complete lack of evidence. 

Voter ID in Kansas

Kobach’s Kansas law required documentary proof of citizenship (DPOC) in order to register to vote. The requirement makes it nearly impossible to conduct voter registration drives and can prevent would-be eligible voters from registering. Just this month, DPOC was found unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Fish v. Kobach, after Kobach was only able to demonstrate 11 cases of voter fraud in Kansas from the last 18 years. Robinson wrote that DPOC did not help to block voter fraud, but “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

The trial led to a lot of legal missteps and trouble for Kobach. Before the trial even began, Kobach was $1,000 fined for a “pattern” of “misleading the Court” after he initially refused to hand over documents pertinent to the case. It later came out that Kobach paid this fine using taxpayer money and a state-paid credit card. During the trial, Robinson held Kobach in contempt of court after he failed to fully comply with the preliminary injunction that required Kobach to fully register voters who lacked DPOC. She ordered Kobach to pay a $26,000 fine, which critics have said should come out of Kobach’s pocket rather than the Kansas treasury. In her final ruling, Robinson ordered Kobach to remedial legal school after his performance showed a lack of understanding of civil procedure.


Crosscheck is shorthand for the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program, a database software system that compares voter records from other states and identifies voters who may be registered in multiple places. Crosscheck was developed in 2005 by one of Kobach’s predecessors, and Kobach’s office still runs the program for participating states.

Crosscheck flags voters at a 99% false-positive rate. This highly inaccurate data is sent back to the individual states as voters who should be potentially purged from the voter rolls. A Harvard study found “Crosscheck’s proposed purging strategies would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” This month, a federal judge struck down an Indiana law allowing voter purges based on Crosscheck.

Kobach and the Commission on Voter Integrity

After Kobach supported Trump’s lie that 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election, Trump named Kobach Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The now-defunct Commission had a wide range of critics, from former Attorney General Eric Holder, who called Kobach a “fact-challenged zealot”, to the New York Times editorial board, which called the Commission “a sham and a scam.” Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State at once point told the Commission to  “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico”, and the NAACP said the Commission’s actions were “a looming threat to our democracy.”

Concern surrounding the Commission grew after Kobach sent a letter to every state requesting voter data including names, addresses, birthdates, partial social security numbers, party affiliations, voting patterns, felony convictions, and military service. The fears of the voter data collection by Kobach led to thousands to de-register to vote across the country. Ultimately, the Commission was disbanded after a series of lawsuits sought to make it comply with transparency requirements, and after it failed to produce any evidence of voter fraud..

Kobach and the 2020 census

Due to Kobach’s urging, Donald Trump is adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite strong protests from advocates that such a question will drive down participation rates and lead to undercounting among communities of color. Such a question has not been a part of the census since 1950. Though Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross originally claimed that the inclusion of the citizenship question would improve the census, documents later showed that Kobach specifically wanted to include the question so as to dampen response rates among certain communities, leading to district gains for Republicans.

Kobach and John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations

During his failed bid for Congress in 2004, Kobach accepted support from John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations, in which Kobach would increasingly entangle himself.

The John Tanton network is a group of organizations founded by the extreme white nationalist John Tanton, who believed in eugenics and racial superiority. The three main anti-immigrant organizations he founded are NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed both of the latter as hate groups.

Some of Kobach’s affiliations with these groups are as follows:

  • Kobach is a listed author at CIS
  • Kobach spoke at the annual event of the Social Contract Press, Tanton’s publishing company that hires white nationalists and Holocaust deniers.
  • The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of FAIR, hired Kobach in 2004, where he remained of-counsel until the beginning of 2018. They hired him as lead counsel in a failed legal challenge to a Kansas law that allowed undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates. IRLI hired Kobach to challenge similar laws in Nebraska and California; these efforts also failed.
  • NumbersUSA hired Kobach in a failed legal challenge against DACA in 2012. Kobach has continued to attack Dreamers, calling for an immediate end to DACA and for officials to “deport the whole family” of DACA recipients. Kobach has also outrageously and falsely claimed DACA protects “gang bangers.”

Kobach’s other anti-immigrant allies

In addition to the Tanton network, Kobach has relationships with many other noted anti-immigrant extremists, including:

  • Iowa Rep. Steve King, who Kobach called “my friend” in a court deposition
  • Joe Arpaio, who said in 2010 that Kobach “should be running for President.”
  • Pat Buchanan, who invited Kobach to speak at his annual conference in Washington, D.C. in 2004, where Kobach shared the stage with VDARE founder and white nationalist Peter Brimelow. Brimelow went on to call for Kobach to be chosen as Vice President in 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections.
  • Kobach picked up a job as a paid columnist for Breitbart while he was still Secretary of State of Kansas. Among other things there, he has cited Peter Gemma, who is linked to Holocaust Denial and white supremacy

Kobach’s long and leading role in anti-immigrant politics

Kobach has been making a lot of news in recent years, but he has been advocating for harsh restrictions on immigration and using the issue to develop a national reputation for himself for decades.

In 2016, Kobach helped ensure that the GOP platform contained support for a border wall and was part of Trump’s transition team. Once Trump was in office, Kobach helped craft the Muslim ban.

In 2012, he was Mitt Romney’s immigration advisor, and the source of the “self deportation” plan that many say led to Romney’s defeat.  Kobach also shaped the GOP platform in 2012, adding calls for a border fence, the end of in-state tuition for undocumented students, the implementation of  E-Verify nationally, and a bizarre, conspiracy-minded ban on “foreign law”.

Kobach also helped craft immigration directives inside the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the George W. Bush Administration and played a major role in Bush’s anti-Muslim policies. Kobach was the architect of NSEERS, initiated in 2002, that required all male noncitizens over the age of sixteen traveling to or present in the United States from twenty-four Muslim-majority countries (plus North Korea) to undergo special register. NSEERS brought zero terrorism-related charges but put 13,799 people in deportation proceedings. The Obama Administration fully removed the program, but when Trump was sworn in, Kobach had the reinstatement of the program at the literal top of his wishlist.