Kris Kobach, the chief architect of the country’s most controversial state immigration laws, announced his endorsement Wednesday for GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, who promptly noted it on his website and said “I’m so proud to earn Kris’s support.”

Kobach, who is Kansas’ Secretary of State, helped author the nation’s toughest state-level immigration laws, including those of Alabama and Arizona.

Immigration is one of the hot-button issues that have arisen in the GOP race to be the nominee for the presidential election, with some candidates pushing a moderate position that includes a path to legalization, and others – including Romney – who stress only enforcement.

“Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country,” Romney said on his website. “We need more conservative leaders like Kris willing to stand up for the rule of law. With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.”

Kobach’s endorsement, and Romney’s embrace of it, drew criticism from immigration advocacy groups, who described it as proof of the GOP front-runner’s nativism.

"Mitt Romney is the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully."

— Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State

Immigration – which played little to no role in Iowa and New Hampshire -- is already becoming an issue in the campaign in South Carolina, which will hold its GOP primary on Jan. 21. Around the beginning of the year, voters in South Carolina –whose immigration law has been partially blocked by a federal judge from taking effect -- received mailings that noted Romney’s hard-line position on illegal immigration.

Romney has said that as president, he would veto the DREAM Act, a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors to get conditional legal status if they meet certain criteria, such as graduate from a U.S. high school, attend college and stay out of trouble with police.

He also supports a stronger fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, and E-Verify, a federal program that allows employers to check a worker’s eligibility to work in the United States.

Romney’s hard line on immigration – as well as other controversial topics -- has helped him win the endorsement of some of South Carolina’s top Republican leaders, including Gov. Nikki Haley and state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a Tea Party favorite.

Kobach, 45, was policy adviser to both Romney and Fred Thompson when they sought the GOP nomination for the 2008 presidential election.  Kobach served as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief adviser on immigration and border security while at the U.S. Department of Justice.

His online biography notes that he is a constitutional attorney “defending cities and states that fight illegal immigration against ACLU lawsuits, including: Hazleton, PA, the State of Arizona, Valley Park, MO, Farmers Branch, TX, and others.”

Kobach was quoted in an Alabama newspaper as saying that the state "has done a great service to America" by passing one of the country’s toughest immigration laws.

"I’m proud to have been a part of it, and the untold story is how successful it has already been in opening jobs for Alabama citizens," Kobach was quoted as saying.

"There haven’t been mass arrests. There aren’t a bunch of court proceedings. People are simply removing themselves. It’s self-deportation at no cost to the taxpayer. I’d say that’s a win."

In his statement -- posted on Romney's website -- endorsing Romney on Wednesday, Kobach said: “We need a president who will finally put a stop to a problem that has plagued our country for a generation: millions of illegal aliens coming into the country and taking jobs from United States citizens and legal aliens, while consuming hundreds of billions of dollars in public benefits at taxpayer expense."

“Illegal immigration is a nightmare for America’s economy and America’s national security," Kobach said. "Mitt Romney is the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully.  He is also the candidate who will stand shoulder to shoulder with the states that are fighting to restore the rule of law."

Immigration advocacy groups, who favor a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would include both enforcement and a pathway to legalization for certain undocumented immigrants, expressed outrage over Romney's embrace of Koch's endorsement.

“With his campaign trumpeting Kris Kobach’s endorsement, Mitt Romney’s descent into the dark clutches of radical nativism is complete," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which is based in Washington D.C. "In Kris Kobach’s America, kids who want to serve in the military and attend college are criminals, states should have the right to nullify federal immigration enforcement priorities, and undocumented immigrants who are hardworking and well-established, who take care of our kids, our elders, our food and our houses, are a plague to be banished."

"Romney’s embrace of this endorsement is nothing less than disgusting," Sharry said, "and will not be forgotten by those who have felt the consequences of the Kobach approach to immigration first-hand.”

Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @Liz_Llorente

Elizabeth Llorente can be reached elizabeth.llorente@foxnewslatino.com

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