Meet Kris Kobach, the man who taught “self-deportation” to Mitt Romney
He is the brains behind the controversial Alabama and Arizona immigration laws, as well as countless other state laws and local ordinances to fight illegal immigration.
Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State and a rising star in the Republican Party. And depending on who wins the presidential election, Kobach could be the most influential anti-illegal immigration voice in the GOP.
Kobach is a close adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney and when Kobach talks, Gov. Romney listens.
The tough position that Romney has taken on immigration mirrors Kobach’s vision for the country. A few days ago, I sat down with Sec. Kobach in his Topeka, Kansas office to talk about many of his ideas, particularly his puzzling self-deportation strategy and whether Romney will implement it should he become president.
Luis Megid: You are a strong advocate of self-deportation. What is it and how would it work?
Kris Kobach: It’s really just a deterrence by another name. And so the concept of self-deportation in immigration is that if people are breaking the law, we as a nation or an individual state should take steps to ratchet up the level of law enforcement incrementally so that people start thinking, Well, you know what? Maybe I should follow the law. It’s harder to get the job illegally. It’s harder to continue breaking the law, maybe using a false name or a false social security number, and I will therefore try to comply with the law in the future. It’s really that simple
LM: Now, many of the people that are living in the country illegally, have been here for 20 years or more, they have children here in the U.S. Is it realistic to think that they’re going to leave the States?
KK: You know, it depends on each — each person’s situation so I think it’s — I don’t think you can assume that just because a person has been here a certain number of years, they will or will not self-deport. And the other factor is it depends on how seriously people think the threat of law enforcement is, and threat’s — threat’s a word that maybe is a little bit too powerful.
The risk of facing law enforcement is. So for example, if there’s only an incremental, a very small increase in law enforcement and a person has been here for 20 years, well, then I think you’re right. The person may not thing there’s really much of a chance that he or she will be placed into removal proceedings or would lose his job or something like that. But if there’s a more substantial increase in law enforcement, then that might change their calculation.
So it’s not a simple equation, but it is a simple concept that the more you increase the chances that people will be unable to break the law, the more likely they will start following the law.
LM : You had some projections, some numbers. Tell me about those numbers if this were applied at a national level
KK: I think if the federal government moved on a variety of fronts at once, you could reasonably say over a four-year period that perhaps as many as half would leave. Every year, depending on the year, more than 100,000 people, and sometimes more than 200 or 300,000 people, will self-deport right now, not because the government’s forcing them, but because they have their own reasons. They want to go back to their country of origin for family reasons. They’ve earned enough money in the United States and they decide it’s time to go home and try something else. They go back because of a loved one being in the hospital. For whatever reason, there’s always people moving backwards and forwards across the border. So the notion of self-deportation is not, I mean, it’s already occurring.
LM: You’re advising Mitt Romney, Governor Romney on matters of immigration. Can we expect that federal scenario that you just described to be the agenda for President Romney?
KK : Well, that’s really his decision, and I — and I,
LM : But you’re very close to him. You would —
KK I would encourage him to take a view toward incurred, you know, toward self - deportation and encouraging people to leave on their own.
And it’s important to recognize what the options are on the table. One option — people often give a false dichotomy, a false choice. They say there are only two choices: Have an amnesty for 11 million or so people who are here illegally; or round people up at gunpoint and try to arrest everyone at once and 100 percent enforcement. And that’s a false choice. Neither one of those is desirable.
The middle option is attrition through enforcement, and that is, increase the level of enforcement a little bit so that people say, “You know, it’s just getting harder to break the law in the United States. And I’ll make my own decision to go home.”
LM : Say that you’re right and people start self-deporting. What would happen to the industries here in Kansas that depend on the labor?
KK: The people who are hurt the most are lower-skilled U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted aliens, people who have come in on green cards because they have family members and who may not have a high school or a college education. They’re the ones who are competing with the illegal labor, and it’s usually disproportionately people of Hispanic ethnicity or African-American individuals or, you know, the illegal labor hits hardest against people who are here legally and who don’t have all the advantages that
And so we have to remember that when the illegal laborer takes the job from the legal laborer, the person who loses the job, you know, may not be someone who has a whole lot of advantages in our society, and chances are they don’t have a whole lot of advantages. So we need to be thinking about protecting the people who are following the law, not protecting the people who are breaking the law.
LM: You told me off camera that are people that love you and there are people that hate you. Aren’t you concerned at all about the — the climate of separation polarize — polarization that this might create in the country?
KK: You know, it’s frustrating because it seems to me that these are reasonable questions. Every country has to have immigration rules and every country does have immigration rules. And I wish we could discuss these rules and laws in a, you know, a cordial, friendly, reasonable way. But so often people will try to cause confrontation, and they’ll try to cause anger, and they will try to, you know, point their finger at someone and say, “He’s a bad person,” or “she’s a bad person.”
And, yeah, I — I don’t like it when this issue causes people to divide against each other like that because, you know, at the end of the day, we’re all God’s children, and in the United States, when we’re trying to decide this, we’re citizens all trying to decide whether, you know, voting for our leaders, decide who the — what the law should be and, you know, let’s just come up with something that is reasonable and makes sense.
And if people agree with me that my views make sense, then that’s fine. I’m glad they do. But if they disagree with me, then hopefully they will do so in a cordial way and in a nice way and will not think I’m a bad person just because I have a different view of what policy should be the best.
LM: Part of the problem might be that a person like you would have no problem. A person like me may have to prove all the time that we’re here legally. And that creates an uncomfortable feeling.
KK Right. Well, and that’s something that should not happen. A person should not have to—the treatment of the law, the treatment that the law gives a person should never vary according to a person’s skin color or according to a person’s accent or according to a person’s sex or according to any of these attributes that a person has.
And so when I have worked on these statutes in various states, one thing I always make sure to include— in these laws is a provision that says very clearly that this law must be applied equally regardless of a person’s national origin, race or ethnicity, and that police may not treat people of one category differently than people in another category.
And I think that certainly we have to be cognizant of that. We have to be aware of that, and that’s why I try to draft these laws so that that can’t happen, so the police must treat all people equally.
LM: if Governor Romney gets to be the president, what can immigrants expect?
KK: Well, legally present immigrants —
LM: And — and immigrants that are not living here legally. And many immigrants that are legally living here have relatives, a father, a mother or —
KK: I think if, uh, if Governor Romney gets elected, you will probably see a very, very strong push both in the White House and in Congress, ‘cause Congress has been considering E‑Verify for a number of years, to have a national requirement that all employers use E‑Verify. I think that is one of the first things you’ll see, and that will make it very difficult for people who are unlawfully, illegally in America to continue
getting jobs. So, that, I think will happen right off the bat, and has a very good chance of happening. Now, that will help immigrants who are in the United States legally because many jobs will open up that were previously held by people in the United States illegally.
And so, you know, there will be a benefit for people who are following the law. And I think that’s important to notice. And that will happen, you know, for a variety of reasons as people who are illegally in the country find it harder to gain employment. Some will leave the United States as I’ve suggested, that will open up lots of opportunities
for people who are following the law. So I really think it depends on whether a person is on the right side of the law or on the wrong side of the law.
LM: What about the Dreamers, kids that came to this country through no fault of their own. What should happen to them?
KK: They should go to — return to their home country, in my view, this is the best thing possible. Return to their home country, stay with family or, you know, maybe go back with family.
LM: Some of them don’t even speak the language of their country…
KK: There — there may be some unusual cases like that, but return to their home country and then get on the legal track. In every country in the world –
LM: And part of the problem it’s so hard to get in a legal track here.
KK: Right. And that’s one thing I would like to see changed too. I — I would like to see the legal track become easier, and that’s to say, faster and more efficient.