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On Immigration, Romney Stands with Alabama, Nativist Groups and Tom Tancredo

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romney florida debateLast night’s Republican debate in Tampa, FL confirmed that Mitt Romney is championing a radical anti-immigrant agenda aimed at expelling 11 million undocumented immigrants – a population the size of the state of Ohio – from the United States.  This strategy, called “attrition through enforcement,” has been developed and pushed by the likes of Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, Roy Beck of Numbers USA, Dan Stein of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Kris Kobach, the author of the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws.  It has been championed in Congress by the likes of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who aren’t exactly what you would call “immigrant-friendly.”

Here’s how Romney responded to a question from co-moderator Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times about how a President Romney would deal with the undocumented immigrant population in the nation:

The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they could do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.

As the New York Times notes, Romney “further explained that under his plan, a card would indicate who could work legally and who could not.  After a transition period, illegal immigrants would not get a card.”  Said Romney, “When that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to work here in this country legally…If they can’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport.”

The ugly contours of Romney’s immigration policy are now clear:

  1. Provide no path to legal status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families;

  2. Have Congress enact a controversial and unworkable mandatory E-Verify scheme aimed at expelling undocumented workers from the labor market;

  3. Encourage states to adopt Arizona and Alabama-like laws – all in an effort to make life so intolerable in the U.S. that those immigrants who don’t get picked up for deportation, pick up and ‘self-deport.’ 

In other words Romney is now on record supporting a purge of millions of Latino immigrant  families with a strategy championed by the far right nativist lobby in America.

A more accurate term for “self deportation,” alternately called “attrition through enforcement” by its champions, is “mass expulsion.”

Romney doesn’t want to deal with the potential PR nightmare of forcing immigrant families from the U.S.  He just wants to make it so intolerable for them to stay that they have no choice but to get out.  As The New Republic wrote about this kind of policy proposal last year:

“If we want to get rid of them, we are going to have to make their lives unbearable, even if it means forfeiting basic American values of equality and human dignity.”

While watching the debate, Roy Beck of Numbers USA blogged and bragged that the Romney “self-deportation” plan was what anti-immigrant groups like Numbers USA have long advocated.  It’s true: Numbers USA and other organizations in the network founded by white nationalist John Tanton are the leading backers of the Romney approach, which is further championed by extremists such as Tom Tancredo and Romney’s immigration advisor and endorser, Kansas Secretary of State and anti-immigrant architect Kris Kobach.  

Influenced by Kobach and the anti-immigration movement, the state of Alabama is currently in the midst of a real time experiment with this approach, having passed a Draconian anti-immigrant law last year.  From ruining the state’s agriculture sector to damaging tourism to destroying the state’s hard-earned efforts to move past its civil rights era reputation, Alabama is already learning the consequences of policies based on self deportation.  As the New York Times captured in an editorial last October:

Alabama’s law is the biggest test yet for ‘attrition through enforcement,’ a strategy espoused by Mr. Kobach and others to drive away large numbers of illegal immigrants without the hassle and expense of a police-state roundup.  All you have to do, they say, is make life hard enough and immigrants will leave on their own. In such a scheme, panic and fear are a plus; suffering is the point.  The pain isn’t felt just by the undocumented. Legal immigrants and native-born Alabamans who happen to be or look Hispanic are now far more vulnerable to officially sanctioned harassment…If Alabama succeeds in driving out all of its estimated 120,000 unauthorized immigrants, restrictionists will surely cheer. They will have only 49 states and 11 million more people to go.

The self deportation discussion was not the only immigration-related focal point of last night’s proceedings.  Both Romney and Newt Gingrich pledged opposition to the DREAM Act, while expressing support for the narrow military service component of the legislation.

For more information, read our report on what “self-deportation” really means: “‘Attrition through Enforcement’: Just Another Name for Mass Deportation”