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Romney Doubles Down on Anti-Immigration Stance

Romney Doubles Down on Anti-Immigration Stance

Bill Berkowitz
February 9, 2012

In the first of two Florida debates held in that state before Mitt Romney triumphed easily in the Republican Party‘s presidential primary a week ago Saturday, the former Massachusetts governor was asked a question about immigration. He not only restated his opposition to the Dream Act -- humane legislation that would put children of illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship if they served in the military or finished college -- but he also came up with a seemingly new solution; "self-deportation."

"If people don't get work here," Romney stated, "they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work."

Unlike Daniel D. Portado, a character that political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz crafted back in the 1990s after the passage of Proposition 187 in California and founded Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover (HALTO), a "militant, self-deportation movement encouraging all minorities to leave the United States," Romney wasn't kidding.

While it is unclear as to when, where and how Romney came up with his version of "self-deportation," one thing is clear. He has brought one of the more vigorous opponents of immigration onto his team.

According to the Associated Press, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has "confirm[ed] that he is serving as an unpaid adviser on immigration issues to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and has served in that capacity since the beginning of the year." AP reported that "Kobach said he started serving as an adviser even before he formally endorsed his fellow Republican last month."

"I'm so proud to earn Kris's support," Romney said last month. "Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country. We need more conservative leaders like Kris willing to stand up for the rule of law. With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem."

Kobach is no stranger to Romney, having served as his campaign advisor on immigration issues during Romney's 2008-failed presidential run.

Kobach is also no stranger to extremist politicking, epitomized by his embrace of the birther movement, a movement that still maintains that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.

"Kris Kobach's political ascendency represents a growing cancer on the American body politic," Devin Burghart, vice president at the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, who's been tracking anti-immigrant activity for nearly two decades, told me in an email. "His scorched earth brand of nativist politics has destroyed countless lives, ripped apart a growing number of communities around the country, and trampled on core Constitutional principles."

Burghart sees Kobach's rise "as a sign of the growing influence of anti-immigrant sentiment on politics."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), In 2010, "While campaigning for Kansas Secretary of State ... Kobach ... Lift[ed] a joke from Rush Limbaugh, ... ask[ing] his fellow conservatives what President Obama and God had in common. The punch line: neither has a birth certificate. Later, he told another rally that the questions about Obama's birthplace were fair as long as the president failed to produce a so-called ‘long form' birth certificate."

The Kansas Secretary of State "is a former law professor who is known nationally for advising state and local officials about cracking down on illegal immigration," AP pointed out. "He helped draft tough laws in Alabama and Arizona."

According to the SPLC, Kobach, who continues to serve as chief legal counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), an arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), "helped [state Senator Russell Pearce] write Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which was signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. The law, which ‘forces police officers to detain individuals who they suspect to be illegal immigrants and makes it a misdemeanor under state law for non-citizen immigrants to fail to carry their immigration papers,' is ‘currently caught up in the federal courts.'"

The SPLC pointed out that prior to that, Kobach "helped to pass anti-immigrant ordinances in Farmers Branch, Texas; Hazleton, Pa.; and other cities. These laws seek to punish those who aid and abet ‘illegal aliens.' The laws have proven a massive financial burden to the towns that pass them and, in many cases, have sparked racial strife and economic disorder. The Hazleton ordinance, which was struck down by a federal appeals court in September, had left that community of about 20,000 on the hook for nearly $3 million in legal fees as of January 2011. The city is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Michele Waslin, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center, reported that Kobach "has long-promoted the strategy of ‘attrition through enforcement' the immigration-control strategy to drive away the unauthorized population by making their lives so miserable that they will choose to ‘deport themselves' rather than remain in the U.S."

Might Kobach play a role in a Romney Administration?

In September 2001, ten days after reporting for duty at the Department of Justice, September 11 happened. According to the SPLC, although "he was not a specialist in immigration law or policy, Kobach became Attorney General John Ashcroft's chief advisor on immigration and border security."

"He stayed on with Ashcroft after his one-year fellowship expired and helped create the controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which required tens of thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders to register with the government and be fingerprinted. Outraged, civil liberties and Arab-American groups argued the policy amounted to racial and ethnic profiling."

Kobach's ties to Romney are likely to not only antagonize Hispanic voters, but independent voters as well.

"He [Romney] can't walk back his fondness of Kris Kobach, the godfather of anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona's SB 1070," said Service Employees International Union Secretary Treasurer Eliseo Medina.

Nationally syndicated columnist and contributor Ruben Navarrette Jr. had a harsher assessment of Kobach, calling him "an opportunistic, anti-illegal immigration zealot who helped write many of the constitutionally challenged pieces of legislation clogging up the federal courts in a half dozen states."

Devin Burghart pointed out that "When given a thorough public airing, Kobach's ties to Nativist Establishment groups [could make] him politically radioactive." He noted that polling during Kobach's 2004 Congressional race "had the race a virtual tie with Rep. Dennis Moore, [until] details of his relationship with FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups became widely discussed and his support plummeted. He ended up losing in a landslide. Kobach himself blamed the attention given to his ties to FAIR for the crushing defeat.

"Sadly, the destructive politics of Kris Kobach, FAIR, and the Tea Party sits on the verge of becoming the ‘new normal' in American political life. It will require all of us who still believe in the American promise to reject the politics of division to stand up proudly for the immigration tradition that made our country great," Burghart added.


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