Politics & Government

How Trump could get Kris Kobach around the Senate and into a key immigration job


Groups that want President-elect Donald Trump to make good on his campaign promise to rein in illegal immigration may have found a way to get a key ally into a pivotal job – while getting around a potentially reluctant Congress.

They are urging Trump to hire Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and an immigration hardliner, for a newly created position – immigration czar – that would not need Senate confirmation.

“We have been pushing them,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for greater immigration enforcement. “The idea has been percolating in a number of places.”

The proposal would put one person in charge of an issue that impacts a dozen departments and agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice, Labor, Housing and Health and Human Services.

Kobach, a member of Trump’s transition team who has met with the future president twice in recent weeks, had been considered for attorney general and homeland security secretary.

But Kobach could face confirmation problems. Republicans who have more moderate views on immigration would be unlikely to support him. They include Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona.

“It’s designed to put Kris Kobach in a position of authority,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group. “It’s widely recognized that Kris Kobach can’t be confirmed by the United States Senate.”

Kobach had advised Trump on immigration policy throughout the campaign and added Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Southern border to the Republican Party’s national platform.

He was the architect of one of the toughest immigration laws in the country – Arizona’s controversial 2010 SB-1070 law – which requires law enforcement officers to demand to see the papers of anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. The law, which has been denounced for encouraging racial profiling, has faced legal challenges since it was signed into law, and many of its provisions have been struck down.

Kobach has been criticized for his legal work for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an organization that says it’s working to “reduce the harmful impact of uncontrolled immigration.” In 2014, his Democratic opponent, Jean Schodorf, called him an “extremist” and accused him of having ties to white nationalist groups, which he called “an outrageous accusation.”

The outspoken conservative has served as secretary of state since 2011, championing stricter voting laws and gaining the power to prosecute election crimes last year.

“I couldn’t think of anybody else that I think would be in a better position to be the immigration czar,” said Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. “Secretary Kobach’s got good knowledge of the legal aspects of immigration issues … and I’d say he has a good comprehension of the current problems and what needs tweaked, what needs to be fixed.”

Arnold said he thinks Kobach remains under consideration for a role in the Trump administration. But he said Kobach has remained quiet about his talks with the Trump team and he does not know any specific details about what the possible role might be.

The idea of appointing a czar is not new: President Barack Obama appointed experts to handle the Ebola response, the financial crisis and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Mark Rozell, dean and public policy professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government who has studied the phenomenon and wrote a 2012 book, The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.

“Czars exist to enable presidents to evade democratic accountability and controls on executive action build into a system of separated powers,” Rozell said. “These positions are nothing more than an end-run around the normal lawmaking process.”

Kobach, who is visiting family in Nebraska, could not be reached by phone Tuesday.

Bryan Lowry of the Wichita Eagle contributed.