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In case you missed it, immigration really erupted as an issue at last night’s foreign policy Republican debate. For months, the candidates have fallen back on fence-first and border-security-first sound bites to answer to answer the various immigration questions that have come up. Last night, they were finally forced to answer questions about what they would do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently settled in the United States.
Newt Gingrich, who has in recent days been emerging as the latest alternative to Mitt Romney, reiterated his view that for at least some undocumented immigrants who are deeply rooted in America, there should be a path to legal status – but not citizenship. Gingrich said:
I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century, and I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.
But arguably the bigger news of the night is what Mitt Romney thinks should happen to those 11 million immigrants. In the spin room post-debate, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told Philip Klein of The Examiner:
You turn off the magnets, no in state tuition, no benefits of any kind, no employment. You put in place an employment verification system with penalties for employers that hire illegals, that will shut off access to the job market, and they will self retreat. They will go to their native countries.
That’s right. Romney has completed his metamorphosis from a supporter of the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform approach into a hardliner who embraces mass deportation, the most radical right-wing view in the GOP.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Now we finally know where Mitt Romney stands on mass deportation. More importantly, now the Latino community knows. Mitt Romney stands anti-immigrant extremists who support the idea that the only solution for the hard working immigrant families who have been in the U.S without status for years is to either pick them up for deportation or make life so unbearable for them that they pick up and self-deport. His stand, in addition to being in stark contrast with three quarters of the American people, virtually guarantees that Romney will come nowhere close the 40% threshold of the Latino vote that any GOP candidate needs to win the White House.
Gingrich, while hardly a reformer in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, at least deigns to acknowledge the reality that it is neither practical nor humane to drive 11 million people out of the country. Romney wants 11 million people who live in our communities, care for our children, take care of the elderly, clean our homes, and are Americans in all but paperwork to get lost. In doing so, he just said adiós to the Latino vote.
To get an idea of just how craven the Romney campaign is with respect to its “send ‘em all home” position on immigration, it’s worth reading Philip Klein’s full account of his post-debate interview with Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom:
After tonight’s debate, Mitt Romney’s campaign clearly saw an opening to go after a surging Newt Gingrich, after he argued for considering a path to citizenship for immigrants who had originally come to this country illegally 25 years ago, but had spent decades integrating themselves in a community.
“Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said that he was willing to repeat that mistake by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today,” Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in the spin room following the AEI/Heritage Foundation debate in Washington, DC. “Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty.”
I followed up by asking Fehrnstrom whether Romney believed in deporting those immigrants who are already here illegally.
“He doesn’t believe in granting them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom responded.
That started a back and forth exchange worthy of Abbott and Costello, as Fehrnstrom kept continuing to drive the “no amnesty” point home, and I tried to get more details.
I followed up again, asking what “no amnesty” would mean for the people already here.
“Well, first, you have to get turn off the magnets to get them to stop coming.”
Again, I asked about those already here.
“He would not grant them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom said.
“But what would he do with them?” I asked.
He reiterated, “He would not grant them amnesty.”
I asked again, “But what would he do?”
“I just told you, he’s not going to grant them amnesty,” he said.
Again, I said, “That’s not an answer, that’s telling me what he won’t do. What would he do?
“He would not grant them amnesty,” he repeated.
Finally, after I asked the question for a seventh time, Fehrnstrom responded by emphasizing employer enforcement as a way to get illegal immigrants to leave through attrition.
“Well, if you cut off their employment, if they can’t get work, if they can’t get benefits like in state tuition, they will leave,” he said.
I asked if that would take care of all of the illegal immigrants, and he said, “Enough of them would leave that it wouldn’t be as big of a problem as it is today.”
Just to be clear, I wanted to know about those that still could remain under such a scenario.
“I just answered your question Phil, and you keep hectoring me about it,” he snapped. “You turn off the magnets, no in state tuition, no benefits of any kind, no employment. You put in place an employment verification system with penalties for employers that hire illegals, that will shut off access to the job market, and they will self retreat. They will go to their native countries.”