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Nativist Lawyer Kris Kobach Jumps on Anti-Shariah Bandwagon

Kris Kobach, the immigrant-baiting attorney behind a raft of “attrition through enforcement” laws designed to make unauthorized immigrants’ lives so miserable that they choose to “self-deport,” is letting his Islamophobic colors fly.

Talking Points Memo reported last week that the Republican National Convention (RNC) has amended its platform to include a ban on “foreign law.” Kobach introduced the plank, saying, “I'm not aware of any court that's actually accepted the argument, but in cases involving either spousal abuse or assault or other crimes against persons, sometimes defenses are raised that are based in Shariah Law.”

Shariah law is Islamic religious law, and the far political right has spent much of the last two years ginning up groundless fears that it will be imposed on the United States — an impossibility under the Constitution. Already, two states have banned “foreign law” based on those fears, and close to two dozen others have considered such statutes despite Oklahoma’s law being struck down last January.

Kobach’s embrace of the anti-Shariah cause should be no surprise to those familiar with his career. Kobach has a history of targeting Muslim immigrants, whom he apparently sees as a special threat to national security.

These days, Kobach serves as Kansas’ secretary of state, a normally low-profile position that he has leveraged to catapult himself onto the national state as a proponent of strict voter registration laws and “attrition through enforcement” immigrations laws.

But in 2002, while serving in the Department of Justice as John Ashcroft’s chief advisor on immigration and border security, Kobach helped create the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a controversial program that required tens of thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders to register with the government and be fingerprinted. Civil liberties and Arab-American groups argued, with good reason, that the policy amounted to racial and ethnic profiling. The Department of Homeland Security shut it down until 2011.

After his departure from the DOJ, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), where he devised prototype “attrition through enforcement” immigration legislation. Versions of his model legislation eventually became law in states including Arizona and Alabama, though federal courts have enjoined their most punishing provisions.

IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant hate group that yearns for a return to immigration laws favoring white, northern European newcomers. The laws Kobach developed as counsel there have principally affected immigrants from Mexico and Central America – but apparently, the nativist firebrand never lost his appetite for targeting Muslims.

Interestingly, the anti-“foreign law” policy Kobach pitched to the RNC bears a not-too-surprising resemblance to a piece of model legislation written by David Yerushalmi – a lawyer, who, like Kobach, has made a name for himself peddling hateful model legislation to any and all takers.

If Kobach’s signature is “attrition through enforcement, Yerushalmi’s is “American Laws for American Courts” – model legislation he created for an outfit called the Public Policy Alliance. Though the legislation itself does not contain any reference to Shariah law or Islam, the Public Policy Alliance describes it in explicitly anti-Muslim terms, claiming on its website, “[W]e are preserving individual liberties and freedoms which become eroded by the encroachment of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, such as Shariah.”

Versions of anti-Shariah laws have passed in Oklahoma and Kansas. According to a recent article in The Nation, Oklahoma’s law was struck down by a federal court that said it had failed “to identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve.”

Perhaps the Kansas nativist seeks to learn from the master. Elaborating on his anti-Shariah position in a Thursday appearance on Secure Freedom Radio (first reported by RightWingWatch), Kobach tipped his hat to Yerushalmi’s model law.

“We’d like to see all of the states take a firm stand against Shariah law being used in their courts,” Kobach told host Frank Grandy. “I think it will allow state legislators who are trying to move similar legislation like Kansas’s and other states, they can point to the national party platform and say, ‘Hey look, this is part of our national platform, this is not some unheard of or imaginary threat, this is part of the national Republican Party platform,’ and hopefully that will help assuage concerns that some of the more wobbly Republicans might have.”

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