In the Tampa Bay debate Monday night, Mitt Romney confounded wide swaths of the internet with a concept that we've been trying for years to persuade the news media to acknowledge: A concept of handling the illegal alien population with something between mass legalization and mass deportation. Simply put, you take away the things that drew illegal aliens here and let most of them self-deport. Most especially, you take away the jobs magnet.
The questioning began with the political editor at The Tampa Bay Times (Adam Smith) saying he was confused.
Governor Romney, there is one thing I'm confused about. You say you don't want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don't deport them, how do you send them home?
-- Debate moderator Adam Smith, Tampa Bay Times
I'm glad he asked the question. But if he really was confused, it means that he has closed his ears for years to advocates and groups like NumbersUSA that have insisted that mass deportation is not on the table in Congress in any way and that the alternative to legalizations/amnesty is a concept known either as "attrition through enforcement" or "self deportation."
But Smith wasn't the only one that appeared clueless to this fact Monday night.
One of the odder turns of phrase that came up during the debate was "self-deportation." Romney said illegal immigrants will leave the country — self-deport — if employment and other laws are enforced and they decide that it's no longer desirable to be in the U.S.
-- Mark Memmott, NPR.com
An odd turn of phrase?
Good grief. Does anybody who writes about immigration ever bother to check in on anybody on our side of the issue? At least once every five years or so?
To MSNBC, Romney's referring to self-deportation was so novel and cloudy that it was a debate "stumble."
Romney's evening, though, was not a flawless one. He seemed to stumble on a question regarding how he would handle illegal immigrants residing in the United States. "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," Romney said, raising eyebrows if nothing else than for the opacity of the concept.
-- Michael O'Brien, msnbc.com
WHY NUMBERSUSA BACKS SELF-DEPORTATION OVER MASS DEPORTATIONS
Deportations are very expensive to the taxpayer. It makes fiscal sense to keep forced deportations to the lowest level necessary to create some credible deterrence. Even at rather high historic deportation numbers the past year, we still deport much less than 5% of the settled illegal population each year. We probably ought to get that at least up to 5%. We should deport all the illegal aliens who are arrested for other crimes and all illegal aliens who, in effect, drop into the laps of law enforcement.
Secondly, all polling and my own personal surveying suggest nothing close to majority American support for the spectacle of mass deportations like Pres. Eisenhower achieved.
To dramatically bring down the illegal population, though, we don't have to engage in highly expensive and politically disruptive mass deportations. The last three years of bad economy has proven that. With a bad jobs climate, more than a million illegal aliens have self-deported.
That is a fact that candidate Rick Santorum noted in agreeing with Romney:
It’s happening now. People are going back now.
-- Rick Santorum at Tampa Bay debate
I have stated repeatedly that the main problem with illegal aliens is not that they are in this country but that they are hurting American workers and their families by taking their jobs and depressing their wages -- and hurting American taxpayers by taking far more in services than they ever pay in taxes.
If we deny illegal aliens jobs and taxpayer-supported services, the country suffers minimally if it takes awhile for the illegal aliens to self-deport, buying their own tickets and paying their own shipping.
WHAT ROMNEY SAID
Romney added a wrinkle in his explanation that departs from our NumbersUSA proposals. He indicated he would allow illegal aliens to work here for a short period before heading home.
That would be like an Exit Amnesty that some Senators proposed to no effect a few years ago. Illegal aliens could report for a temporary visa but in so doing identify themselves for deportation if they didn't leave at the promised time. This is not a terrible idea if all the details are worked out carefully. But we would need to know a lot more details. The Associated Press quickly noted that Pres. Bush had tried a small program like that and almost no illegal aliens signed up. However, Pres. Bush had not first taken away the ability of illegal aliens to get jobs unless they signed up.
CBS.com reported about Monday night's debate:
Romney said "we're not going to round people up" but rather, financially struggling undocumented immigrants would choose to return to their home countries of their own volition.
"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," he said. "And so we're not going to round people up."
The former governor explained: "The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here legally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else. And I know people think but that's not fair to those that have come here illegally."
"Isn't that what we have now?" asked Smith, who pointed out that "If somebody doesn't feel they have the opportunity in America, they can go back any time they want to."
Romney suggested his administration would make it harder for illegal immigrants to get jobs, which would in turn lead them to seek work elsewhere.
"We'd have a card that indicates who's here illegally," he said. "And if people are not able to have a card, and have through an E-Verify system determine that they are here illegally, then they're going to find they can't get work here. And if people don't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work."
He said that then people could "get in line at home" and come to the country legally once they "reached the front of the line."
The fact is that under this plan many of the illegal aliens would in fact be able to come back into the U.S. legally because of close family relationships. But others might be unlikely to ever legally come back because they lack skills that are needed by this country, as it should be.
GINGRICH & SANTORUM JOIN ROMNEY IN OPPOSING DREAM ACT AMNESTY
The news media have been battering Romney for weeks because he said he would veto the DREAM Act Amnesty for young adult illegal aliens who go to college.
But Monday night, Gingrich and Santorum said they would veto it, too.
Romney and Gingrich said they would be okay with a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who had been brought to the U.S. as children and then served in the military.
But Gingrich's joining what many have called the hardest line of all -- opposition to the DREAM Act -- continues a march away from the more open-borders type stances he was taking last year.
That has to be a big jolt to a number of open-borders groups that have been touting Gingrich as their Republican hope.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA