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Kobach Tells Civil Rights Commission He’d Never Help a Known Bigot

Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and the architect of harsh, anti-immigrant laws in several states and cities, made a special trip to Hatewatch’s home state last week to testify in Birmingham before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The statutes pushed by Kobach – among them Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s even more draconian HB 56 – were devised to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they give up and “self-deport.” A lawyer with degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale, he began crafting anti-immigrant policy while working in John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice. In 2004, he was hired as senior counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), where he devised immigration legislation that would later serve as the basis of the laws in Arizona and Alabama. (IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant hate group that yearns for a return to the days when immigration policy favored light-skinned northern Europeans over all others.)

These days, Kobach serves as secretary of state of Kansas, where he has pushed worryingly restrictive voter ID laws and continued to be active in immigration restriction efforts across the country. On Friday, he appeared in Birmingham as a witness at a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights field briefing on the civil rights impact of the state immigration laws he drafted and pushed.

Protesters were ready. At one point during his testimony, five women stood up to reveal T-shirts that spelled out “Stop Hate.” They were followed by a series of demonstrators carrying banners reading “Undocumented,” who interrupted Kobach, shouting over him in Spanish and English until police arrived to escort them peacefully from the room.

During the question-and-answer portion of the testimony, Commission Chairman Marty Castro asked if Kobach was aware of racist statements made by Russell Pearce, the Arizona legislator who worked with Kobach to push through SB 1070.

Absolutely not, Kobach said. “Nothing has hurt me more in this whole debate than when people start pointing at someone and saying that you’re doing this because you’re a racist, you’re a nativist. … It hurts me because I’m not, and that’s false witness against me,” he said. “If I had any indication that a state legislator who was coming to me for assistance had any racially biased motive, any ethnically biased motive, I would refuse to assist him or her.”

If that’s true, Kobach – who bragged to the commission about being a “careful attorney” – must have somehow missed the warnings, issued for years by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, about Pearce’s bigotry. The former Arizona legislator once sent supporters an article from the neo-Nazi National Alliance website. Worse, he maintained a close friendship with J.T. Ready for more than a year after the latter was exposed as a prominent member of the National Socialist Movement, the country’s largest neo-Nazi group. Ready killed himself in May, but not before fatally shooting his girlfriend, her daughter, and the daughter’s boyfriend and 15-month-old baby girl.

Kobach was the first of 20 to speak at what turned out to be a contentious hearing. While the commissioners delivered politically charged speeches and squabbled with each other over rules, witness testimony strayed far from the briefing’s stated purpose of exploring whether state immigration enforcement laws were leading to civil rights violations.

Dan Stein, president FAIR, the anti-immigrant hate group Kobach was working for when he devised the bills under scrutiny on Friday, testified that America is on brink of “national catastrophe” because its borders are too open. He also declared that his organization had since its founding opposed discriminatory immigration laws.

That’s simply not true: In fact, Stein himself once described the end of race-based immigration quotas as a form of “revengism” devised to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance.”

Hands down, the most bizarre comments of the day came from Carol Swain, an African-American professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University best known to readers of this blog for her habit of defending and promoting racists – including one who said of blacks, “[T]hese EVIL monkeys are DESTROYING the greatest nation ever built!”

Testifying before the commission on Friday, Swain described herself as a spokesperson for “we the people” as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, and said that in her opinion, the Obama administration is doing nothing to deal with America’s “immigration nightmare.”

Swain also quoted Romans 13, which says that even manmade law is divinely authorized. “People who consider themselves Christians really should consider this Scripture when they take their position on immigration,” she said. “And for the atheists and the secular humanists, it’s not for you, I’m speaking to Christians.”

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