Romney Echoes Nativist Group Language With "Self-Deportation" Comment

January 26, 2012 1:21 pm ET — Salvatore Colleluori

During Monday night's debate, Mitt Romney introduced what many saw as a new theme in the immigration debate — "self-deportation." Newt Gingrich quickly jumped on Romney's comments, saying that self-deportation "is inhumane" to families who have been in the United States for a long time.

However, Romney did have one defender in anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA, whose Executive Director, Roy Beck, wrote a blog post stating that self-deportation is "what we've been trying for years to persuade the news media to acknowledge." From the blog post:

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.

NumbersUSA, which was founded by Beck, not only opposes undocumented immigration, but also wants to see lower legal immigration to the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the group a nativist organization, and it is part of a network founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton. Beck's close association with Tanton, who once asserted that "for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that," should be of concern to any candidate that seeks to pursue policies that fall in line with Beck and NumbersUSA.

If the "self-deportation" idea's association with anti-immigrant nativist groups isn't troubling enough, looking at the effects of one law that creates conditions that encourage "self-deportation" should show the idea has terrible flaws when implemented. In Alabama, thanks to a draconian law that requires police to check immigration papers of those they suspect may be undocumented, not only undocumented immigrants but also legal permanent residents and even citizens have been impacted by the hostile environment the law creates for Hispanics. According to Scott Douglas, who is the executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama's "leaders are governing under the influence of rabid racism, extreme xenophobia, and much ignorance." As one legal resident in Alabama explained, his citizen daughter received a printout of frequently asked questions about the law in school because the teachers gave it "to children we thought were not from here."

Indeed, those who don't want to deal with the day-to-day struggle of suspicion and "rabid racism" have left Alabama regardless of their legal status — taking their tax money with them. The New York Times highlighted farm and factory owners who said "that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving," an assertion the Times says is backed up by its own interviews. Alabama's case demonstrates that laws aimed at encouraging "self-deportation" have far-reaching consequences that go well past just forcing out undocumented immigrants.

UPDATE: Via an article in the upcoming issue of the Economist, Alabama state legislator Mickey Hammon very concisely explains the strategy behind Alabama's anti-immigrant law — and other laws aimed at encouraging "self-deportation":

Alabama's immigration law, boasted Micky Hammon, an Alabama legislator and one of its co-authors, "attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant's life. They will not stay in Alabama...This bill is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves."