Legal Architect Behind Arizona Law Becomes Sought-After Immigration Guru

Kris Kobach

Kris Kobach

Illegal immigration crackdowns popping up across the country have a common thread: a 44-year-old constitutional law professor and former Bush administration attorney who crafted the legal framework behind Arizona's controversial immigration law. 

Kris Kobach has become a sought-after figure for states and cities looking to replicate tough immigration statutes similar to Arizona's new law, which gives unprecedented power to local police in questioning and detaining individuals they suspect are in the country illegally. 

Kobach was the legal architect behind Arizona's SB 1070, which is being challenged by the Obama administration. With that combination of cachet and infamy, he's become the go-to guy for crafters of copycat laws, and he is putting his mark on legislation across the country, most recently in Fremont, Neb. 

"I've been in touch with state representatives in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Alabama and Idaho," Kobach said in an interview with 

Kobach, of Kansas City, Mo., has paved a formidable path for himself in legal and political circles, positioning himself as a rising star within the Republican Party. He has at the same time attracted a host of critics, from lawmakers to civil libertarians who say his work promotes racial profiling. 

Kobach's crusade against illegal immigration began when he was working for the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks. Kobach helped create the "National Security Entry-Exit Registration System," which required immigration officials to fingerprint and question more than 80,000 male visitors, most of whom were from Muslim countries. None was ever charged with terrorist activity, however, and the program was eventually cancelled. 

After leaving the White House in 2003, the Harvard and Yale-educated attorney went on to assist local governments around the country on various immigration statutes, taking him from Hazleton, Pa., to Valley Park, Mo., to Farmers Branch, Texas. 

But perhaps in no other place is his legal influence greater than in Arizona. 

In 2006, Kobach successfully defended an Arizona law that made immigrant smuggling a state crime. In 2007, Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of SB 1070, contacted him for assistance in drafting the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which ensures that no business in Arizona knowingly hires or employs illegal immigrants. His legal triumphs in defending the two statutes led to state officials recruiting his help in crafting SB 1070. 

Aside from his legislative work, Kobach has also represented U.S. citizens as plaintiffs trying to prevent states from giving in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. 

Kobach has most recently come under fire for his role in drafting an ordinance in Fremont, Neb., that implements a ban on hiring or renting property to illegal immigrants. The measure, which passed Monday, sparked an outcry from local activists who say it has fueled anti-immigrant sentiments in a city that has only 1,995 Hispanics. 

"He has used our community for his own legal career and has peddled a failed idea of local enforcement of immigration laws," said Kristin Ostrom, a local activist lobbying to overturn the ban. 

Kobach is "whipping up a sentiment of fear of Hispanics and using the ruse of illegal immigration for his own agenda," Ostrom said, adding that "the outcome of his work is a Hispanic community that does not feel welcome in Fremont." 

Critics have also pointed to Kobach's past work with the Federation for American Immigration Reform -- or FAIR -- a group perceived by some as extremist. 

Of the backlash of criticism over Arizona's immigration law, Kobach said it's politics -- not issues over its legality -- that are leading the charges against it. 

"I think the Obama administration's reaction has been very surprising," Kobach said of the pushback. "They sent the U.S. Attorney General out to comment on the law before he even read it, which was a big mistake and an irresponsible move on behalf of the administration." 

The White House confirmed last week that it plans to challenge Arizona's law in court, arguing both that it will lead to racial profiling and that it's the federal government's responsibility to regulate immigration. 

Critics, including the administration, have specifically pointed to language within SB 1070 that gives local law enforcement the right to detain individuals based on "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the U.S. illegally. Opponents argue that such a phrase is not clearly defined and will undoubtedly lead to racial profiling. 

Not so, counters Kobach, who says "reasonable suspicion" has been "defined or applied more than 800 times by the federal courts." 

"That's a frequently used phrase," he said. 

A professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School, Kobach announced in May 2009 his intent to run for Kansas secretary of state, facing off against two Republicans. He summed up his ambition in such a position very simply: to "make a similar impact in stopping voter fraud as I have with illegal immigration."

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.