Alabama-Arizona immigration laws recall 1935 Germany

Is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach – he who roams the nation promoting vicious anti-immigration laws and ordinances – a latter-day Julius Streicher?

If television were reality, Kobach’s disturbing career could be scheduled as a hideous remake of “Welcome Back Kotter.”

In the original, Kotter returned to his high school alma mater as a teacher and took under his wing a motley assemblage of wayward students and mentored them toward near-adulthood.

In the racist reality version, Kris Kobach has returned to his native Kansas after a stellar academic career at Harvard, Oxford and Yale Law. He has taken under his wing a motley assemblage of nativist racists, often mistaken for tea party evangelicals.

He is mentoring them in formulating Nazi-reminiscent anti-immigration laws and therein resembles not at all the fuzzy, warm-hearted teacher but rather the jack-booted, brown-shirted Julius Streicher, “Jew baiter number one;” promulgator of the fascist Nuremburg Laws of 1935 and among the very few non-military Nazis executed for crimes against humanity by military tribunals at Nuremburg after World War II.

From 1923 until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945 Streicher was editor of the German tabloid Der Sturmer (the Attacker), possibly the 20th century’s most racist tabloid. The focus of Der Sturmer’s attacks was, of course, the Jews.

Streicher’s role gave him the platform to advocate for greater Nazi bureaucratic efficiency in the legal crackdown on Jewish participation in everyday life.

While the original Nuremburg Laws served to criminalize sexual relations and contacts between Aryans and Jews, later additions to them, primarily by Joseph Goebbels, addressed economic and everyday social relations. For instance, entering into a contract with a Jew became illegal. Renting to a Jew was illegal. Providing social services to Jews became illegal. Jews were relegated to their own schools. Ultimately it became illegal for Jews to have money. Naturally, the intent of all this was to get Jews to leave Germany.

On Sept. 16, 1936, The New York Times reported Streicher’s explicit remarks to newspaper reporters. The article, sub-headlined “The Way to Solve the Problem Is to Exterminate Them,” reported, “The Nuremburg high-priest of anti-Semitism (Streicher) … announced that in the last analysis, extermination is the only real solution to the Jewish problem. Mr. Streicher made it clear in his address that he was not discussing the question in regard to Germany alone … but of a world problem.”

Though the Nuremburg Laws were, we would like to think, far more extensive, invasive and racist than anything that could possibly be accepted anywhere in America in 2012, there is a disturbing overlap of key provisions of the laws – and the intent – to get the Jews in Germany, and undocumented immigrants here, to “deport themselves.”

Below are some key provisions of Alabama’s new immigration law. In parentheses we’ve added the word “Jew” to underline the commonality of Alabama and Nuremburg.

One of the most controversial aspects of Alabama’s new law is a requirement that public schools check students’ immigration status in order to collect and track data (similar to the role IBM played in Germany collecting and tracking data on Jews). However the law does not bar undocumented workers or their children (Jews) from attending schools.

Among others:

  • prohibitions against most contracts entered into by most undocumented immigrants (Jews);
  • bars on undocumented immigrants’ (Jews’) “business transactions” with the state;
  • criminalizing undocumented immigrants’ (Jews’) failure to carry registration documents (currently blocked by court challenge);
  • prohibitions against most contracts entered into by unauthorized immigrants (Jews).

One key, and controversial, aspect of Alabama’s new immigration law is a requirement that law enforcement officers seek to determine the immigration status of individuals subject to arrest, detention or a traffic stop whenever “reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

Backers of such laws claim the laws do not promote racial profiling, but that makes no sense. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented white people in the U.S. rarely get stopped and carded, because they are assumed to be U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief  with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals saying the Alabama law is not only unconstitutional, it is nothing more than an attempt to get undocumented workers “to deport themselves,” much as Streicher tried to do.

Kobach’s role in all of this has been ample. As chief legal consultant for the far-right FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) he engineered the formulation of the Alabama and Arizona immigration laws and has worked diligently to try to make them appeal-proof. He’s launched other attacks elsewhere with mixed results.

On behalf of FAIR, Kobach sued the state of Kansas for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. That suit was dismissed for lack of evidence. He was more successful in California where his suit originally prevailed but was later overturned by the California Supreme Court.

Kobach also served as the lead attorney defending the city of Valley Park, Mo. in a federal case that challenged an ordinance sanctioning employers who hire the undocumented. After several appeals the ordinance was held to be legal.

In Farmers Ranch, Texas, Kobach led the city’s defense of ordinances barring property owners from renting to undocumented workers. Those laws were struck down.

In appearance and intellect Kobach is no Streicher. He’s intellectual, talented and worldly. His studies at Oxford resulted in a treatise on the development of capitalism in South Africa. However, just as David Duke attempted to wrap the Ku Klux Klan within  a buttoned-down, pin-striped image a generation ago, Kobach is doing the same today for the far right.

Supporters of Julius Streicher (yes, they still exist) argue he got a raw deal at the tribunals that had him hanged. Had he lived in the U.S., they say, he would have been protected by freedom of speech laws. They could be right and apparently a lot of people in Alabama and Arizona agree.

Photo: Chart to describe Nuremberg Laws, 1935. The “Nuremberg Laws” established a pseudo-scientific basis for racial identification. Only people with four German grandparents (four white circles in top row left) were of “German blood”. A Jew is someone who descends from three or four Jewish grandparents (black circles in top row right). In the middle stood people of “mixed blood” of the “first or second degree.” A Jewish grandparent was defined as a person who is or was a member of a Jewish religious community. Also includes a list of allowed marriages (“Ehe gestattet”) and forbidden marriages (“Ehe verboten”). 

Jean Damu is a member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. He can be reached at




Jean Damu
Jean Damu

Jean Damu is the former western regional representative for N’COBRA, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, and a former member of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, taught Black Studies at the University of New Mexico, has traveled and written extensively in the Caribbean and Africa and currently serves as a member of the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Email him at This story first appeared in the San Francisco Bay View in 2003.