During last night's Florida Republican debate, Mitt Romney dropped a bomb on unsuspecting audiences. He proposed 'self-deportation' as the solution to the issue of a broken immigration system.
The reactions to his statement were varied and even moderator Adam Smith asked him if 'self-deportation' was a "valid concept." People mocked Romney on Twitter, and the answer left people "intrigued, speechless, and confused (with some remote laughter in the background)." Even more dangerously, some viewed his stance as a softening on his previous hard-line, enforcement-heavy positions.
It should be clear that self-deportation is very real, it is happening right now, and it is a right-wing concept favored by restrictionist conservatives. What self-deportation means is making immigrants' lives so miserable, that they choose to leave. Adam Serwer did a great job of explaining the concept and its roots here.
A few points he makes:
[Self-deportation]is the right-wing's answer to the question of how you deport eleven million unauthorized immigrants: You don't. You force them to "deport themselves."[...] Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable.The GOP pandering to anti-immigrant advocates is not going anywhere. When Mitt Romney boasts about being endorsed by known nativist Kris Kobach, and tries to mainstream euphemistic terms like self-deportation, the rhetoric is only heating up.
Make no mistake, this is signaling more attacks on immigrants with an escalation of punitive measures like the ones currently in place in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, etc. Is enforcement through attrition how America wants to deal with this issue? Are we comfortable with looking back at this in the future and saying 'we harassed everyone out of the country'?
Self-deportation seems like a dangerous bet for civil liberties and because it will lead immigrants further into lawlessness. Serious conversations about solutions must be had, but the current political discourse is not conducive. The GOP is not naive, or out of touch about immigration, as some have described it. We are witnessing well-planned attacks on immigrants, and the current toxic debate on the issue is not accidental.