Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Thursday again defended President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, but this time he was met with protesters denouncing his stands on immigration and voter registration.
The Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, had invited Kobach to speak at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, where Kobach taught constitutional law and other subjects until 2010. In what appeared to be a series of orchestrated interruptions, the protesters, who did not appear to be law students, briefly but loudly disrupted Kobach’s remarks in the student lounge before walking out.
Kobach took it in stride, telling the protesters at one point that “it doesn’t make your argument more credible if you have to shout it,” and resumed his talk, which focused on President Trump’s executive orders blocking travel from six predominantly Muslim countries and threatening to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities.
Kobach told the packed student lounge that the president has broad authority to issue orders preventing the entry of people deemed to be security threats and that court rulings striking them down were highly politicized.
In 99 percent of all court cases, he said, litigants will get a fair hearing. “But in some highly politicized areas of the law, a very small sliver of the law, it’s just amazing to me how results-driven some in the judiciary are,” Kobach said.
Kobach said the executive orders were about preventing illegal immigration from regions of the world where the Islamic State and other terrorist groups are active.
“The president has this really broad authority to bar the entry of any alien or class of aliens that he deems detrimental to the interests of the United States,” Kobach said.
Kobach said the travel ban was not animated by anti-Muslim sentiment because it does not affect 43 other Muslim majority countries, “and 90 percent of Muslims in the world live in places not affected by the order.”
He also defended the order’s provision giving preference to minority religions.
“That’s logical too,” he said. Because to be a refugee, “you have to have a credible fear of persecution because of your membership in a particular social group.” … It only stands to reason that the minority religion is more likely to be persecuted by a government in any country than the majority religion, he said.
Kobach said that too many refugee applicants had been given the benefit of the doubt by the State Department, “and as a result lots of people who got refugee status were in fact terrorists.”
The executive order did what was essential, Kobach said, by imposing a 120-day freeze on refugee admissions while the State Department changes its vetting procedures.
“Obviously something’s not working if so many terrorists are able to get refugee status,” he said.
He also defended Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold federal grants from cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts. The order was blocked this week by a federal judge in San Francisco.
Kobach said the judge based his ruling on a purely hypothetical scenario in which all federal funds, not just grants, were withheld from sanctuary cities. But Kobach said the ruling’s final sentence made clear it did not impact the government’s ability to use lawful means to enforce existing terms of federal grants.
“There was all this hue and cry from the media about ‘oh, my goodness, they struck down another one of Trump’s executive orders,’” Kobach said. “Well, actually if the judge is striking down something imaginary and it’s really not that big a deal, because the judge says, yeah, that if everything is within the terms of existing law and it’s a federal grant, then no problem.
“But again, this is the hazard, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with, of when you try to do your constitutional law by reading the newspaper, no offense to the reporters here, you might get a different perspective on what the opinion did … than if you actually read the opinion.”
Earlier in his talk, Kobach spoke of his prosecutions of individuals who have voted in more than one state and his efforts, so far stymied by the courts, to require individuals to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.
“Our system does a great job of getting you registered in a new state, but does a very poor job of getting you de-registered in the state you no longer reside in,” he said.
Following his talk, Kobach was greeted with warm applause from the audience of about 100 students and faculty. Afterward law professor Bill Echardt, an advisor to the Federalist Society, called the event "a victory for free speech."
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Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.