Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is back in the national political spotlight with a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s plan to allow young undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States without being deported.
An informal adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Kobach is representing 10 immigration agents who contend they are being put in a no-win situation.
They either break the law by not moving to deport illegal immigrants or disobey their bosses by not following the directive, the suit says.
“They have sworn an oath to uphold the law and if they follow federal law, they end up disobeying the orders of their superiors. If they disobey the orders of their supervisor they’re disciplined,” said Kobach, who filed the suit outside his role as secretary of state.
“They’re put in an untenable and a very difficult position.”
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Dallas. It names as defendants Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and immigrations and customs Director John Morton. Kobach is the lead attorney in the lawsuit, which is funded by Numbers USA, a group based in Arlington, Va., that advocates for lower immigration and raised almost $5.5 million in 2010.
Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said the new directive complies with the agency’s prosecutorial discretion to focus its efforts on arresting and deporting criminal immigrants.
The policy being challenged was announced by Obama in June. Critics saw it as a way to get around Congress in an election year when both parties are courting Hispanic voters.
While it does not provide a path to citizenship or permanent legal residency, the policy allows young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States without fear of being deported.
The directive applies to illegal immigrants who came to the United States when they were under the age of 16 and are not over the age of 30. They must have resided in the United States continuously for at least five years. They can’t have been convicted of a felony or a significant or multiple misdemeanors.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started accepting applications for the program on Aug. 15. It has a $465 application fee.
Local immigration lawyers say they have been flooded with inquiries from potential applicants but have cautioned that the policy could always be repealed with a new president.
An internal Homeland Security document obtained by The Associated Press shows that the government estimated receiving more than 1 million applications in the program’s first year, with about 890,000 being immediately eligible.
The new directive already has ignited a backlash. Some states, such as Arizona, Mississippi and Nebraska, are refusing to provide benefits to illegal immigrants even though they would not be deported under Obama’s policy.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, for instance, signed an order denying driver’s licenses and other public benefits to anyone who qualifies for the so-called deferred deportation program. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman also refused to provide public benefits to anyone who’s accepted into the program.
Critics said the lawsuit, coupled with Kobach’s informal role advising Romney on immigration, puts more pressure on the presumptive Republican nominee to more clearly explain his views on the issue.
“If Kobach is an adviser to the Romney campaign, is this the policy position of the Romney campaign?” asked Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration for the National Council of La Raza. “That’s a question that should get posed to them.”
A spokesman for the Romney campaign said Obama’s action put young undocumented immigrants in limbo, but gave no indication whether Romney would repeal the directive.
“There is no question that the president’s executive action is unprecedented and raises large questions as to whether it is within his authority,” said Romney spokesman Michael Levoff. “The courts will have to sort this out, but this kind of uncertainty is unacceptable as these young people brought here as children are seeking clarity on their long-term status.”
Levoff blamed Obama for ruining a “a bipartisan effort in Congress to forge a long-term solution for these young people,” and said, “Mitt Romney will work with Congress to forge a long-term solution that will supersede the president’s stopgap measure and give these young people certainty.”
Meanwhile, Kobach said the lawsuit was undertaken independently of his supporting role with Romney. However, Kobach acknowledged that he gave the campaign a heads-up so it could prepare for questions from reporters.
“The Romney campaign has nothing to do with this lawsuit,” Kobach said. “It’s completely separate of my involvement of providing informal advice to the Romney campaign.”
Kobach has been a lightning rod in the national debate over how the country should deal with illegal immigration, an issue he campaigned on when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004.
His critics are plenty and so are his supporters, many who believe that he’s the intellectual father of building and defending laws aimed at curtailing illegal immigration.
Some critics refer to him as the country’s “Deporter-in-Chief.”
Kobach helped Arizona and Alabama write controversial laws cracking down on illegal immigration, both of which were challenged in court.
He was in Tampa, Fla., this week where he was putting his stamp on the Republican Party platform as he rallied support for tough anti-illegal immigration laws and strict voter citizenship rules
On immigration, the GOP platform now encourages states to fight illegal immigration with Arizona-style laws.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down several key provisions of the Arizona law, but it allowed states to enact laws that require law enforcement officers to conduct immigration checks on people they have already stopped or arrested if they suspect the person is here illegally.
Kobach has been involved with at least six cities and states that have drafted new laws intended to combat illegal immigration. So far, he’s had mixed results in court.
He’s lost cases in Kansas and California seeking to strike down laws that offer in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants. But he helped the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park successfully defend a law banning employers from hiring undocumented workers.
And he was on the winning side when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law that punished employers for hiring undocumented immigrants, which opened the door for other cities and states to enact similar laws.
He’s been paid at least $424,000 in legal fees and expenses during the last five or six years for work he’s done in various jurisdictions, according to figures obtained by The Star earlier this year.
During this year’s Kansas legislative session, Kobach faced critics at home, especially as he pushed to move up the date when the state begins requiring those registering to vote to show proof of citizenship. So far, he hasn’t been able to get any of his tough measures dealing with illegal immigration passed in Kansas.