Mitt Romney's Self-Deportation Plan for Illegal Immigrants is Harmful

Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought when it comes to illegal immigration. There are those who believe in a zero tolerance policy, meaning that all illegal immigrants should be sent home immediately. And there are those who support a pathway to citizenship.

Now, a new, third way is emerging. The movement is officially referred to as “attrition through enforcement” but informally, it is called “self-deportation.” The idea is to make life so difficult for immigrants in the United States that they choose to go home voluntarily. 

Self-deportation is gaining conservative support — Mitt Romney said in the Republican debate last Monday night in Florida that he favored the concept as a solution to illegal immigration. But, the method creates more problems than it solves.

Take Alabama, for example. The state recently passed sweeping legislation that encourages self-deportation by requiring state and local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of anyone detained in a routine traffic stop or arrest if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the U.S. illegally.

Since inception, the law has caused chaos in schools, unearthed suppressed racial attitudes, and significantly impacted Alabama’s economy.

The legislation effectively turns every encounter between a civilian and a government official into a checkpoint, instilling fear into Alabama’s Hispanic population, and deterring them from engaging in normal every-day activities — like sending their kids to school. The morning after the law was passed, more than 200 Hispanic students were absent from Montgomery County schools.

The law is also resurrecting racism. This American Life reporter Jack Hitt traveled to Alabama to interview state officials and immigrants about the law. Immigrants told him they now feel a sense of hatred surrounding them. He reports, “School kids tell me they are fighting off comments like ‘I’m glad you’re all moving, we don’t want you here.’ At a pep rally, where Latinos were all sitting up front, kids started shouting ‘Mexicans move to the back’ and most of them did.”

Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas is the mastermind behind self-deportation. He is an up and coming Republican star (he campaigned with Romney in South Carolina) who helped write different immigration bills in states across the country, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.  

When Republicans won a supermajority in the Alabama State Legislature in 2010, state Sen. Scott Beason teamed up with Kobach to draft and pass the most far reaching anti-illegal immigration law in the nation.

Beason claims the law has been effective, alluding to the fact that in the last three months, thousands of immigrants have fled Alabama and the state’s unemployment rate dropped below the national average.

But, few besides Beason consider the law a success. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the immigration bill into law, said there is no data to back up the connection. And instead of opening up jobs, businesses have seen jobs lost because of it. An economic analysis of Alabama's immigration law by the director of the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research found that “the law will actually hurt the state's economy, with the potential loss of tens of millions in tax dollars and billions in lost production.”

Moreover, law enforcement officials say the measure is a waste of time and resources that could be spent on more important issues. Steven Anderson, police chief in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, told Hitt that that provisions of the law force law enforcement to make illegal immigration a priority when immigrants are "not in my top 10, maybe not even in my top 20, of concerns that I had for the city of Tuscaloosa."

Undoubtedly, managing America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is an important issue that must be addressed. But anyone who thinks that simply forcing families to uproot their lives will solve all our problems is overlooking the true harm behind the method.

Photo Credit: ElvertBarnes