The man thought to be among Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE's candidates to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has long been seen on the right as a champion of the rule of law, and on the left as a crusader for racist policies.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was an early supporter of the president-elect and is now part of his transition team on immigration, thrusting him into the national spotlight.
Should Trump choose Kobach to head the DHS, he will be responsible for turning some of Trump’s more controversial anti-terrorism proposals, like the so-called Muslim ban or Muslim registry, into reality.
He would also be at the forefront of Trump’s efforts to build a wall along the border with Mexico and round up undocumented immigrants.
Kobach, a constitutional lawyer, has advanced hardline immigration policies during his career — an approach he seems poised to carry into a potential role at the DHS.
He is the principal author of Arizona’s strict immigration law, several pieces of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012. Over the summer, he drafted planks of the GOP’s national platform concerning immigration policy. During the 2012 election, he advised presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the concept of “self-deportation."
Working at the Justice Department under former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kobach spearheaded the development of a controversial visa screening program enacted by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He has also been an active litigator defending cities that have enacted policies aimed at discouraging illegal immigration.
“Kris Kobach would be a great candidate for DHS given his expertise on immigration issues,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who worked with Kobach at the Justice Department, said in an email to The Hill.
“He has an in-depth knowledge of federal immigration law and the problems faced by the states and the federal government in dealing with the illegal immigration surge that has occurred as a direct result of the Obama administration’s amnesty and non-enforcement policies.”
More moderate Republicans have largely stayed silent on Kobach, but his critics don’t mince words: They say he has a mean-spirited obsession with immigrants and ties to white nationalist groups.
In 2015, Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D) called Kobach “the most racist politician in America today” over a comment Kobach made that “it’s not a huge jump” for the Obama administration to put a moratorium on the prosecution of all African-American suspects.
“Kris Kobach dedicated the last decade and a half to dreaming up ways to make life miserable for immigrants, while basking in the applause of white nationalists,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the liberal advocacy group America’s Voice.
Kobach met with Trump on Sunday and discussed “border security, international terrorism and reforming federal bureaucracy,” according to a readout from the transition team.
On his way into the meeting, Kobach was photographed holding what appeared to be a written plan for the DHS for Trump’s first 365 days in office.
Among the three major proposals visible on the document was one calling to reinstate and “update” the Bush-era program he spearheaded, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
The document also called for reducing the intake of Syrian refugees to zero and instituting “extreme vetting” questions of “high-risk aliens” about Sharia law and jihad.
The original NSEERS required noncitizen visa holders from 25 countries — all but one of which were majority Muslim — to register when they entered the U.S. and check in regularly with immigration officials.
“We are an open country that welcomes the people of the world to visit our blessed land. We will continue to greet our international neighbors with good will. Asking some visitors to verify their activities while they are here is fully consistent with that outlook,” Ashcroft said in 2002 when he announced the program.
Civil liberties groups lambasted the program as discriminatory against Muslims. President Obama suspended the program in 2011 after it failed to produce a single terrorism conviction.
Reinstating NSEERS “flies in the face of the Constitution and is a threat to the civil liberties of all Americans,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
“It’s a lot like the registry for Muslims [Trump has] proposed, just instead of saying it’s a registry for Muslims, it’s termed as a registry for people from a certain country and those countries are Muslim-majority countries,” said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International's security and human rights director.
“It’s a work-around [for] having to explicitly say it’s a registry for Muslim immigrants.”
It’s unclear what Kobach means by updating the program, but civil liberties lawyers note that the document — partially obscured by Kobach’s hand and the frame of the photos — recommends that "high-risk aliens" be “tracked.”
“The most frightening difference [between the original NSEERS and Kobach’s proposal] is the advanced technology that’s available to the U.S. government now for keeping people under surveillance — facial recognition technology, a gargantuan apparatus for intelligence collection within the United States that didn’t exist nearly on that scale under the Bush administration,” Shah said.
Trump is also reportedly considering Marine Gen. John F. Kelly and former Bush-era homeland security official Frances Townsend to fill the DHS post.