America's Deporter in Chief

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Dokoupil

Frustrated by the federal stalemate on illegal immigration, cities and states have spent the last few years crafting their own curbs on unlawful residency. The most publicized of these was in Arizona, which ordered police with "reasonable suspicion" to check people's immigration status (and went further last week, introducing a bill that aims to deny citizenship to children born in the state whose parents are there without permission). Lawmakers have worked aggressively as well in Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Idaho, among other states, punishing schools that educate undocumented immigrants, landlords who rent to them, and businesses that hire them.

What unites these measures, however, is more than a hardline approach to border control. It's their ties to one man: Kris Kobach, a Kansas-raised former law professor who has emerged as the intellectual architect of the right's fight against illegal immigration. The 44-year-old has authored, aided, or officially defended almost every controversial stance in the country, beginning with his work as chief immigration adviser in John Ashcroft's Justice Department.

This year may be Kobach's most influential yet. From a base in Kansas, where he is the newly seated secretary of state, Kobach will help Arizona defend his laws against all comers. Both the Justice Department and American Civil Liberties Union have sued the state, claiming that immigration is a federal matter. He'll also counsel a dozen or so states that are considering copycat laws and a coordinated assault on birthright citizenship. And he'll litigate at least four ongoing immigration-related cases, including lawsuits against California (for extending in-state college-tuition rates to the undocumented) and San Francisco (for failing to notify immigration authorities before a thrice-arrested alien allegedly murdered three people). It's a "legal jihad," according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which calls the path he's blazing "a trail of tears."

Kobach's contagious ideas and all-American good looks have made him a fixture on Fox News. But he's no wingnut. His path to public life is so pedigreed it makes John Kerry seem rough-hewn. Kobach earned top undergrad honors at Harvard; won a Marshall scholarship to Oxford, where he picked up a political-science doctorate; got a law degree from Yale, where he was an editor of The Yale Law Journal; and did missionary work in Africa. …