In a recent guest commentary on KansasCity.com, immigration advocates Sulma Arias and Guadalupe Magdaleno tried to link Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s anti-immigrant views to white nationalism. The very next day, Dan Stein, president of the Kobach-friendly FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, responded with his own column, arguing that such allegations were “incoherent,” “disconnected” and “presented in a manner that no reader could realistically corroborate.”
Last July, I criticized Kobach’s claims about immigration in The Star. I argued that both legal and illegal immigrants raise American wages, create jobs and increase federal and state tax revenue. I also explained why illegal immigrants are less likely to steal or commit violent crime than U.S.-born citizens.
Although I did not address this in my original piece, it’s worth mentioning that study after study shows that voter fraud, which is commonly associated with immigrants, is an insignificant drop in the electoral bucket.
Kobach’s views about immigration are disastrously wrong in almost every respect. This is why it pains me to admit that Dan Stein raised some important points in his piece defending him.
Like many many well intentioned immigration advocates, Arias and Magdaleno attempt to prove Kobach’s racism by routinely citing the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC. Stein notes this “immediately raises a red flag.”
He’s right. The SPLC has a track record for smearing anybody it disagrees with. For example, the organization once placed Rand Paul on a list of right-wing extremists alongside actual neo-nazis and klansmen. They also defamed liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz who is suing the SPLC for including him in its “field guide to anti-Muslim extremists.” Nawaz is known for founding the Quilliam Foundation, an organization that combats Islamic extremism by promoting peaceful interpretations of the faith.
J.M. Berger, a researcher on extremism and former fellow at the Brookings Institution expressed his concern about the SPLC in an interview with Politico last August, saying “The problem partly stems from the fact that the organization wears two hats, as both an activist group and as a source of information.”
But the SPLC’s history of recklessness isn’t the only reason why citing it is a liability for immigration advocates. Even when it is correct, it employs guilt by association tactics that are unable to withstand serious scrutiny. Arias and Magdaleno cited it when they correctly pointed out that the original founder of FAIR, John Tanton, is a eugenicist.
Just as Planned Parenthood supporters and Sierra Club members get the plausible deniability of not being racist, so too should Kobach. This is important not just for logic, but for persuasion. When immigration advocates choose to talk about Kobach’s alleged racism instead of addressing the facts about immigration, his supporters see it as just another excuse not to listen to their arguments.
In April of last year, Kobach was scheduled to speak to students about immigration at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. But instead of attacking his easily refutable arguments, students silenced him through a series of shouts and chants, what is often referred to as a “heckler’s veto.” Afterward Kobach smugly said, “If I were a liberal, I’d be embarrassed. Let’s test our arguments against each other.”
Kobach was the winner that night. He wins every time his detractors attack his character or attempt to silence him. To Kobach’s supporters, immigration advocates are shielding themselves from Kobach because his arguments are too reasonable. Unfortunately, it is the immigration advocates who are shielding Kobach from the demise of his own weak arguments.
Sam Peak is a Kansas City native who writes about immigration for Young Voices, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps cultivate young thought leaders.