Romney’s Immigration Policy: Don’t Deport, Just Torment

Photo: DonkeyHotey's Flickr Page

Mitt Romney has already raised eyebrows for his harshly anti-immigrant stance, with many in his own party criticizing his views and foretelling trouble for his standings in the upcoming Florida primary. So in that state’s GOP debate on Monday night, citing the impossibility of arresting 11 million undocumented immigrants, moderator Adam Smith asked Romney to elaborate on his immigration policy.

Romney responded: “The answer is self-deportation.”

This garnered even more skeptical chuckles (watch the video) from an already incredulous audience. Gingrich has unequivocally condemned the idea, and, as the Huffington Post points out, even grasping the concept of something like “self-deportation” is just short of impossible—after all, how could anything about “forced dismissal” seem voluntary?

But, ludicrous as it may sound, “self-deportation” is a rhetorical argument that anti-immigrant stalwarts have used for years; it’s part of a litigation strategy known as “attrition through enforcement,” which aims to implement E-Verify and remove any “enticements” for undocumented immigrants so they will “deport” themselves. In simpler terms, it means ‘torment them until they leave’.

In recent years it has been the favored strategy of the virulently nativist John Tanton Network, a constellation of anti-immigrant organizations known through their common benefactor, the white nationalist John Tanton. As the largest and most influential coalition of its kind, the Tanton Network has done much to make the language of “attrition through enforcement” and “self-deportation” popular.

Roy Beck, founder and president of the Tanton Network group NumbersUSA, pointed this out when he stated that self-deportation is “a concept we’ve been trying for years to persuade the news media to acknowledge.” Indeed, Beck and NumbersUSA, frequently cite “attrition through enforcement” as a major component of their mission, most recently through the contentious national E-Verify bill.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of another Tanton Network organization, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), met the mass mystification of his beloved concept with patent indignation, going on to summarize its importance:

“Self-deportation is the core of a policy of attrition through enforcement, which has been the strategic framework for all the pro-enforcement measures of the past several years, at both the federal and state levels.”

And it’s true. As far back as 2003, Krikorian has emphasized “attrition through enforcement” as the governing philosophy of nativists’ legislative endeavors, and his organization CIS has even issued a report on the topic. What’s more, he cites the harsh anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama as success stories, apparently thinking that mass hysteria, racial profiling, and the forced relocation of workers are preferable to the current state of affairs.

Romney himself might agree with this stance; earlier this month he embraced an endorsement by Kris Kobach, architect of the Arizona and Alabama laws. Kobach also works within the Tanton Network as of counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Intitute (IRLI), an organization established to write and disseminate legislation that works toward “attrition through enforcement.” If there were one person responsible for the viability of self-deportation, it would be Kobach. Writing the policies that would encourage an immigrant to flee, be it sanctioned profiling by police, the impossibility of finding work or even an apartment, this nativist lawyer has helped to generate most of the reasons an immigrant would have to fear this country.

And despite its weirdness, “self-deportation,” through no small effort of the aforementioned nativists, made it into the mainstream. Romney use of this phrase only indicates how acceptable anti-immigrant rhetoric has become. A curious concept it may be, and though he’ll claim it’s the golden mean between deportation and the dreaded “Amnesty,” Romney’s immigration stance predicates the agony of immigrants. It’s simply nativism, and it’s nothing new.