Last night in the Republican NBC debate, after Newt Gingrich said that he would support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States, Mitt Romney introduced a concept that sounds totally bonkers at first.
“Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can 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.”
Why would illegal immigrants self-deport? They’re in America because they want to be.
Romney was actually referring to a strategy of dealing with illegal immigration advocated by most of the policy-thinkers who want to dramatically lower illegal immigration.
The truth is almost no one wants to try and round up millions of illegal immigrants all at once. Such a strategy, after years of neglecting to enforce immigration law, would rip families apart in the middle of the night, lead to massive confusion, and fear. Imagine the Elián González raid done tens of thousands of times.
Instead, at the federal and state levels, lawmakers and police would work to enforce existing (and some new) workplace and housing laws. This would make it harder for illegal immigrants to find legal work in the U.S., denying them the economic opportunity that likely brought them into to the country.
Faced with these obstacles, immigrants who cannot get documents together would then begin making their own arrangements to either stay as a dependent with a relative who is a citizen, return home, or try to find a way into a legal immigration line.
Many immigration-restriction advocates, such as Roy Beck, President of Numbers USA, say this strategy would also be good for American workers, by making more of the labour economy lawful, subject to wage and safety regulations.
Of course, opponents of immigration restriction argue that it is cruel to break up existing and peaceful economic relationships between recent illegal immigrants, and that instead a pathway to citizenship should be offered to to them so that they no longer work in a black-market economy.
Already, many illegal immigrants have already self-deported because of the economic and financial crisis has diminished the amount of work for them.
Correction: An earlier version of this article associated Roy Beck with the centre For Immigration Studies, an educational group that does publish Beck’s work but does not employ him.