Kris Kobach hasn’t been in the national spotlight much lately. Not since helping Romney and the GOP epically blow the 2012 presidential election. Aside from a meltdown last June when he suggested that deadly force should be used against peaceful protesters (yeah, he went there), he’s been keeping a fairly low profile.
But just because Kobach has seemed a bit beleaguered the last few years, doesn’t mean he’s been doing any less damage. He’s made Kansas home to some of the most dreadful voter suppression efforts in the country, and he’s continued to push for local ordinances in towns across America that aim to make life unbearable for immigrants and their families.
One place that passed such an ordinance is essentially in Kobach’s backyard: Fremont, Nebraska. Fremont is a small city, population 26,167, embroiled in a big immigration fight. It was handpicked years ago by Kobach and his institutional supporters, FAIR and the Immigration Reform Law Institute, to test out an unconstitutional law that prohibits “harboring” (renting or providing housing to) or employing an undocumented person. Recently FAIR, the powerful anti-immigrant group founded by white nationalist John Tanton, has publicly pledged to continue the fight in Fremont as fed-up residents attempt to repeal portions of the ordinance in a Feb. 11 special election. FAIR called the repeal effort ‘un-American.’
In 2010, Kobach’s Fremont ordinance was passed by a voter referendum and has endured legal challenges ever since. It has survived, barely, although it hasn’t been fully enforced. It has served to bitterly divide Fremont’s residents and taxpayers have had to bear the financial burden as property taxes were increased to pay the legal fees. That’s significant in a town where the median household income is just $37,000 per year. The financial cost of being Kobach’s guinea pig is unknown, but other towns where Kobach has tried to pass similar ordinance have paid into the millions.
Kobach has attempted to pass severe anti-immigration laws in towns across Pennsylvania, California, Missouri, and Texas. There is no proven financial benefit to implement these laws; quite the opposite. In Hazelton after an ordinance crafted by Kobach and fellow IRLI attorney Michael Hethmon was struck down by a federal judge, the city was forced to pay for all legal fees. Hazleton was in the tank for at least $2.8 million back in 2011 and some estimates indicate it could reach $5 million as it defends its ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Farmers Branch, Texas, has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and is expected to spend at least $5 million to defend its anti-immigration statute.
Mr. Kobach has burdnened these communities with ongoing legal battles while drawing a sizable paycheck from the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR.
By all accounts the ordinance is very unpopular with residents who have begun to fear that the negative attention on Fremont will have a lasting effect. As they should be.