Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI)

Founded in 1986 as a legal arm of FAIR, IRLI now serves as the legal outfit for the anti-immigrant movement, drafting model anti-immigrant legislation for lawmakers, defending their harmful measures in court, and litigating against cities and states that have passed ordinances and laws welcoming immigrants. As an integral part of the organized anti-immigrant movement, IRLI has been behind the legal strategies attacking DACA recipients, including Crane v. Napolitano and U.S. v. Texas. In recent years, IRLI lawyers have brought several cases to the highest levels of the U.S. court system. Former IRLI counsel Kris Kobach, has helped to implement anti-immigrant measures, many of them overturned in lawsuits but costing municipalities millions of dollars. Despite these failures, IRLI and its attorneys have become a regular presence in the country’s most prominent immigration-related cases. On August 29, 2019, the group filed two legal briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Trump Administration on DACA litigation. President Trump quoted IRLI’s director of litigation Christopher Hajec in a series of tweets on September 6, 2019, urging the court to rule in his Administration’s favor.

 

  • IRLI was founded in 1986 by John Tanton. As an integral part of the organized anti-immigrant movement, IRLI, the Tanton network’s litigation arm, is the primary powerhouse behind several anti-immigrant bills and lawsuits in localities and states across the country.
  • Groups like IRLI, FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA have an enormous amount of influence over the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and have even placed former staffers in government agencies such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. IRLI’s former investigative associate Ian Smith went on to work as a policy analyst for DHS before resigning from his post, shortly before The Atlantic reported he had been on email chains with white nationalists including Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor. 
  • In addition to taking on legal battles, IRLI staff also draft legislation and work with lawmakers to flood state legislative dockets with anti-immigrant bills. The most recognizable example is Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, which Kobach co-authored with former state Senator Russell Pearce, and which was signed into law by then-Governor Jan Brewer.
  • IRLI Counsel and former staff attorney for FAIR, Michael Hethmon calls the harsh attrition through enforcement measures drafted and defended by the group “field tests,” designed to test the legality of different anti-immigrant policies.
  • Several of these initiatives have bankrupted local economies and left taxpayers on the hook for massive legal tabs, a portion of which was paid to Kobach, who offers his legal services when the measures he authored are taken to court. According to the Kansas City Star Kobach “earned more than $800,000 for his immigration work, paid by both towns and an advocacy group, over 13 years.”
  • Below are just a few examples of the costs to cities and states of the policies IRLI and their former lawyer Kris Kobach worked on:
    • Hazleton, PA, July 13, 2006 – Hazleton took on debt to pay $1.4 million in legal fees and eventually had to file for a state bailout. Former Congressman Lou Barletta worked with Kobach on this legislation while he was mayor of Hazleton.
    • Farmers Branch, TX, 2006 – Farmer’s Branch paid over $7 million in legal fees. Then-Mayor Bob Phelps has since called Kobach’s pitch “a sham,” Phelps stated “It was just a sad situation that we had to go through, and everybody now regrets it.”
    • AZ SB1070, 2010 – According to the Center for American Progress Arizona lost an estimated “$253 million in economic output, $9.4 million in tax revenues, and 2,761 jobs.”
    • AL HB 56, 2011 – Researchers estimated that HB 56 could cost the state nearly $11 billion in lost economic output and as much as $264.5 million in tax revenue.
  • In 2007, representatives from IRLI and FAIR joined Daryl Metcalfe, founder of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) to announce that SLLI would enter into a “working partnership” with IRLI to create a set of model attrition through enforcement legislation that state legislators across the country could introduce in their legislatures. 
  • Several other IRLI staffers and board members are employed or have been previously employed by other Tanton groups, such as FAIR President Dan Stein, who serves on IRLI’s board of directors.

Anti-immigrant Views

  • Former IRLI counsel Kris Kobach entertained the possibility that Latinx immigrants could conduct “ethnic cleansing” in the U.S. by outnumbering the current white majority, due to what Kobach described as having “a president who disregards the law when it suits his interests.” Kobach continued, “So, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, things are strange and they are happening.”
  • On the Gold Star Khan Family berated by Donald Trump, Kobach stated: “It is maddening to be lectured about our Constitution and about what American law should be by aliens in the United States.”
  • Kobach has advocated for the dismantling of the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship: “Any justice who sought to come to the conclusion that the Constitution requires citizenship for the children of illegal aliens would have to explain what the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ mean, and that’s a very difficult task for them to do.”
  • In 2017 Kobach told a group of Republicans gathered at state convention that he had been advising President Trump on methods to overcome federal court rulings blocking the administration’s first executive order related to the Muslim Ban.
  • Kobach was critical of the Trump Administration’s decision to allow a small transition period for the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders who have lived in the U.S. for decades and who have nearly 300,000 U.S. children. In a November 2017 interview for Breitbart, Kobach opined, “We expected the Trump Administration to return sanity to the TPS program. But, sadly, this recent decision continues the Obama administration’s abuse of the law.”
  • At an immigration debate, IRLI Senior Counsel Michael Hethmon described his support for attrition through enforcement policies: “By making the environment for illegal aliens so inhospitable, especially in economic terms — if you can’t get a job, can’t pay rent — then maybe it’s not the good deal it’s cracked up to be.”
  • Hethmon has argued that the United States’ transition to a country where the majority of its citizens are people of color could lead to violence.
  • In an op-ed for CNN in 2010, Hethmon described his work to enact harsh state-based immigration laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 in the hopes of offering model legislation for Congress: “Sink or swim, these new laws are forcing Congress to confront the need for enforcement-based reform. State enactments like SB 1070 will continue to offer Congress models for national legislation and serve as legal antibodies against the fallacy of amnesty.”

Anti-immigrant Activity

  • In addition to the group’s unprecedented power and influence over the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, Tanton’s legal group has continued its attacks on immigrants via the judicial branch of government and has been a frequent supporter of the Trump Administration’s policies even as they face numerous constitutional challenges.
  • IRLI has filed friend of the court briefs in support of the Trump Administration’s policies including the  Muslim Ban, dismantling of asylum law, declaring a national emergency to fund a wall along the Southern border, the 2020 Census citizenship question and ending DACA.
  • Additionally, IRLI continues its work to dismantle birthright citizenship, employment based immigration, work authorization for immigrants, supported the Georgia higher education system’s decision to deny DACA recipients access to certain universities in the state, and former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s attempt to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.
  • IRLI is one of the primary architects behind the legal attacks on undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age and the DACA program. Following the Supreme Court’s failure to reach a majority decision in the U.S. v. Texas case, IRLI issued a press release lauding the outcome, and confirming their behind-the-scenes work to attack these immigrants: “IRLI advised the Texas Attorney-General’s office on key facets of the case and filed a total of six friend-of-the-court briefs throughout the case’s proceedings.” 
  • The Center for New Community report titled IRLI Beginnings: The Immigration Reform Law Institute and the Anti-Immigrant Origins of United States v. Texas detailed IRLI’s role in key legal battles on immigration policy over the last decade and its work to pave the way for the legal attacks on the DACA program.
    • IRLI’s former counsel Kris Kobach helped initiate and draft anti-immigrant lawsuits like Crane v. Napolitano, the suit that pitted ICE against President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and set the stage for United States v. Texas.
    • Crane v. Napolitano came as a response DACA and was filed on August 23, 2012, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, on behalf of 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council union, served as lead plaintiff and spokesperson for the ICE agents involved in the case.
    • That same day, NumbersUSA announced that it would financially support the legal effort against DACA. In a blog post that reads more as a fundraising appeal than an announcement, NumbersUSA President Roy Beck said the ICE agents’ legal team would be “funded entirely by NumbersUSA member contributions.” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant announced his state would join Kobach and NumbersUSA’s lawsuit on October 10, 2012.
    • Anti-immigrant leaders once again attempted to use individual states as plaintiffs against former President Obama’s deportation relief programs, as Kobach attempted with Mississippi in Crane, in Texas v. U.S.
    • On November 22, 2014, two days after President Obama’s announcement on DAPA and the expansion of DACA, the Washington Post reported that then-IRLI lawyer Kris Kobach had already begun drafting a lawsuit, and was shopping for a state with a large undocumented population to act as the plaintiff. Kobach told participants at a community forum that that he “already begun drafting a suit as the lead attorney, with plans to file it in early December,” and that “Texas is interested in being a plaintiff.” On December 3, 2014, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit challenging DAPA and DACA+. From there, the newly elected Attorney General, Ken Paxton, carried out the lawsuit through to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • In January 2016, IRLI filed a motion on behalf of its client, OFIR, to intervene and dismiss a lawsuit against the outcome of the 2014 ballot measure, which overturned the state’s law to expand drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. In a press release announcing the motion, IRLI executive director Wilcox stated “Illegal aliens do not have a right to driving privileges, nor do they have a right to travel freely in the U.S. as federal law makes their very presence in the U.S. unlawful.”
network-graph Created with Sketch. John Tanton Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation Armstrong Foundation Foundation for the Carolinas The Weeden Foundation Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation ) Ted Cruz Steve King Lou Barletta Paul Gosar Marsha Blackburn Louie Gohmert Mo Brooks CIS FAIR IRLI NumbersUSA Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck Kris Kobach Jessica Vaughan Sessions Jeff Bannon Steve Miller Stephen Julie Kirchner Feere Jon Ken Paxton Abbott Greg Jan Brewer Steven Camarota Wilcox Dale Rosemary Jenks Miano John Michael Hethmon Breitbart Fox News National Review FAIR CIS NumbersUSA IRLI Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation Armstrong Foundation The Weeden Foundation Foundation for the Carolinas Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation) John Tanton FAIR CIS IRLI NumbersUSA John Tanton CIS FAIR IRLI NumbersUSA John Tanton CIS FAIR IRLI NumbersUSA John Tanton CIS FAIR NumbersUSA John Tanton CIS Jeff Sessions Stephen Miller Julie Kirchner Ken Paxton Greg Abbott Jan Brewer Dale Wilcox Michael Hethmon Steve King Fox News Lou Barletta Mo Brooks Paul Gosar Marsha Blackburn Louie Gohmert Kris Kobach Jessica Vaughan Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation The Weeden Foundation Foundation for the Carolinas John Tanton Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation) Breitbart Steve Bannon Jon Feere Steven Camarota Rosemary Jenks John Miano Breitbart Armstrong Foundation Jeff Sessions Stephen Miller Steve King Fox News Lou Barletta Mo Brooks Paul Gosar Marsha Blackburn Louie Gohmert Jessica Vaughan Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation The Weeden Foundation Foundation for the Carolinas John Tanton National Review Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation) Armstrong Foundation Jeff Sessions Stephen Miller Steve King Lou Barletta Mo Brooks Paul Gosar Marsha Blackburn Louie Gohmert Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck The Weeden Foundation Foundation for the Carolinas John Tanton Rosemary Jenks Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation) Julie Kirchner Ken Paxton Greg Abbott Jan Brewer Dale Wilcox Michael Hethmon Kris Kobach John Miano Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation Lou Barletta Dan Stein Mark Krikorian Roy Beck The Weeden Foundation John Tanton Scaife Family (Colcom Foundation) Jan Brewer FAIR NumbersUSA Jeff Sessions IRLI Julie Kirchner John Tanton CIS FAIR NumbersUSA Jeff Sessions IRLI John Tanton CIS FAIR NumbersUSA Jeff Sessions IRLI CIS John Tanton FAIR IRLI Jeff Sessions Lou Barletta Steve King FAIR CIS Jeff Sessions Lou Barletta Dan Stein IRLI FAIR CIS IRLI FAIR NumbersUSA CIS IRLI CIS FAIR IRLI Ted Cruz National Review Mo Brooks Paul Gosar Marsha Blackburn Lou Barletta Mark Krikorian Roy Beck Steve King Dan Stein NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Jessica Vaughan Kris Kobach Breitbart CIS NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Dan Stein IRLI FAIR CIS IRLI FAIR IRLI FAIR Jeff Sessions Jessica Vaughan NumbersUSA FAIR CIS IRLI Jeff Sessions NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Kris Kobach Jessica Vaughan Jeff Sessions NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Jeff Sessions NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Jeff Sessions NumbersUSA FAIR CIS NumbersUSA FAIR CIS Jeff Sessions CIS Steve Bannon FAIR FAIR CIS Jeff Sessions CIS STATE ELECTEDS THE ARCHITECT THE FUNDERS THE MAIN ORGS TRUMP ADMIN LOBBYING, LITIGATION & POLICY LEADERSHIP CONGRESS MEDIA MEGAPHONE
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