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Mother Jones on Romney Immigration Adviser's Plan for a State by State Purge of Immigrants

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March 2012

“Inside the Self-Deportation Movement”: Mother Jones on Romney’s Immigration Adviser’s Plan for a State by State Purge of Immigrants

When Mitt Romney began saying that his proposal for dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country is to force them to “self-deport,” it may have sounded like characteristically Romneyesque empty rhetoric.  But a special report in the March/April issue of Mother Jones, called “Inside The Self-Deportation Movement,”  documents how “self-deportation” has been the rallying cry for a coordinated effort led by close Romney adviser Kris Kobach and state legislators in Arizona, Alabama and other states—an effort to make undocumented immigrants as miserable as possible to force them to leave.  Mother Jones profiles some of the demagogic politicians and interest groups devoted to making this policy a reality; the wave of anti-immigrant state laws they’ve proposed and passed; and the economic and humanitarian toll these laws have already had on Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

Mother Jones illustrates the national scope of the extremist “self-deportation” movement with infographics on the movement’s “family tree” (from godfather John Tanton on down) and how Kobach and colleagues collaborate with state legislators to write anti-immigrant state bills.  But its detailed cover story  on Alabama’s HB 56 shows just how intimately involved Kobach was in writing the most destructive anti-immigrant law in the country—and what sort of advice he is giving the Romney campaign today as he helps develop a national version .

The article quotes the director of the Kobach-affiliated Immigration Reform Law Institute, Michael Hethmon, saying that Kobach rewrote HB 56 to sound “denser, but more defensible.”  He said Alabama state legislators Scott Beason and Micky Hammon wanted their law to be the toughest in the country.  Kobach counseled the legislators to reword their bill, removing “their cherished rhetorical expressions” and “use the denser, but more defensible, formulations that were coming out of our shop.” Given that Sen. Beason called on legislators to “empty the clip, and do what has to be done” on immigration, and Hammon bragged that the law “attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life,” it’s easy to see why Kobach tried to hide the motivations behind this bill.  In fact, Kobach downplays the law’s effects completely, telling Mother Jones “it doesn’t make much of an imposition on the freedom of the illegal alien.”

But what looks like “not much of an imposition” to Kobach looks like a tragedy to Alabamians.  Mother Jones also details some of the worst effects of HB 56, uncovering stories that haven’t gotten much attention and explaining how HB 56 has actually failed in several ways.  For example:

  • When tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa in April 2011, during the debate over HB 56, injured immigrants were afraid to leave their ruined homes to seek medical help: “(Police Chief Steven) Anderson realized that very few Latinos had shown up at the FEMA aid stations set up around town, despite the damage done to their neighborhoods—in particular, to the Graceland Apartments complex, where the brick facades were shredded and the rubble of a roof piled up behind windows. Following a hunch, Anderson sent officers into these buildings. They discovered Latino families hiding in the ruins, nursing cuts and broken bones. Many wouldn’t ask for help from FEMA or the police or at hospitals for fear of being deported.”
  • Alabama farmer: “If they’re out there run over by an automobile layin’ in a ditch, and you help ‘em, you’re breakin’ the law”: From the article: “‘The way this bill is now,’ (farmer Keith) Smith said, ‘if you have anything to do with them whatsoever, you’re breaking the law. If you see ’em and they’re hungry, or if they’re out here run over by an automobile layin’ in a ditch, and you help ’em, you’re breakin’ the law.’ He swung to smash a fly on his desk and missed. ‘It’s just not right.’”
  • “They’re not just people we employ. They’re family members.” The article quotes Smith’s son describing his relationship with Shorty, who’s worked on Smith’s farm since 1992: “’People like Shorty, who been working for us for all these years, they’re not just people we employ,’ Casey said. ‘They’re family members. A lot of people don’t realize that. There’s a tie there. Shorty’s like an uncle. I’ll flat out tell you, I got family members I think less of than I do him. For years I spent 8 to 10 hours of my day knowing Shorty was going to be right there. And I was going to see him every day. It’s bigger than what people realize.’”
  • And after causing all this suffering, what does the state have to show for it? The law’s created ten jobs—at most—for legal residents: “by January the governor’s ballyhooed Work Alabama program, designed to fill the positions that opened following HB 56, had posted only 10 jobs, and officials had no idea if any had been filled.”

Mitt Romney uses the phrase “self-deportation” to mask the cruelty and extremism of the immigration policy he adopted from Kris Kobach—but Mother Jones’ reporting tears the mask off. When Romney says he wants immigrants to “self-deport,” he means that he wants every state to deal with them as harshly as Alabama has. While Romney and Kobach may have the luxury of ignoring the inhumane consequences of their policies, Latino voters around the country—many of whom have undocumented friends or relatives —understand what happens when politicians start treating them as unwelcome in their own home. If Romney maintains his close relationship with the “self-deportation movement,” he may find that he’s spurred another mass migration—that of Latino voters to vote against him on Election Day.