Mitt Romney's Immigration Dodge

The former Massachusetts governor's immigration stance precludes the possibility of reconciling policy with reality.


"I don't believe in amnesty," Mitt Romney said in 2006, but "I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country." Although Romney is loath to admit it, the underlying reality remains the same.

While mass deportation of everyone illegally residing in the United States is unacceptable for both practical and humanitarian reasons, Republicans are afraid to suggest an alternative, lest it be tagged with the a-word. Last week Romney's campaign highlighted that danger by pouncing on New Gingrich for taking essentially the same position that Romney himself has repeatedly enunciated.

During last week's Republican presidential debate, Gingrich suggested appointing local review boards to decide which illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay. "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, [and] you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully, and kick you out," he said. "I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, 'Let's be humane.' "

Unlike many other self-aggrandizing pronouncements by the former House speaker, that one, sadly, had an element of truth, as Romney's campaign promptly proved. "Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty," Romney's spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters after the debate.

Yet back in 2006, when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney said "those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship, as they would from their home country." During his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, he criticized the 2007 immigration reform bill, co-sponsored by his rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), saying "people should have no advantage by having come here illegally." But he continued to support the general idea of letting illegal immigrants apply for citizenship or legal residency—a policy that the Romney of 2011 presumably would condemn as "amnesty."

We can't say for sure, because he refuses to address the issue. After the debate, The Examiner's Philip Klein repeatedly pressed Fehrnstrom to say how Romney would handle the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Fehrnstrom would go no further than declaring that Romney "would not grant them amnesty," uttering that phrase or variations on it no fewer than five times.

This dodge precludes the possibility of reconciling U.S. policy with the reality that, as Gingrich put it in 2006, "millions of illegal immigrants are here because Americans are hiring them. They have jobs in your neighborhood and you know it."

Romney knows it as well as anyone else. In 2006 he was embarrassed by the revelation that undocumented landscapers hired by a contractor were working at his home in Belmont, Massachusetts. As Gingrich pointed out (regarding illegal immigrants in general), "Keeping these hard-working people illegal makes them vulnerable to criminals and keeps them from playing responsible roles in our communities."

Romney's chief complaint about the 2007 immigration bill, which aimed to bring these people in from the shadows, was that it would have let illegal immigrants "jump ahead of the line" to become permanent residents (after eight years) or citizens (after 13). He made a similar point at a debate last September. "We've got 4.7 million people waiting in line legally," he said. "Let those people come in first."

But if the U.S. government were prepared to let eager workers connect with desperate employers, 4.7 million people would not be "waiting in line." And if that line moved at a reasonable pace, 12 million people would not be living here illegally.

At last week's debate there was general agreement that it should be easier for high-skilled foreign nationals to take jobs in the United States. The same thing is glaringly true for people who work on farms, in restaurants, and in politicians' yards. Just don't call it amnesty.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.


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  1. Just charge the illegals you deem worthy of America a nominal penalty and don’t call it amnesty. Since when have politicians been above playing with semantics?

    1. Officer, am I free to gambol about plain and forest?

      Why don’t libertarians like real deregulation of big government enTITLEments enforced to restrict the free movement of people?

      1. Because recognizing title to land is pretty much the smallest government action one can conceive of — and the very foundation of civilization.

        Common law provides for rights of way to property entitlements and therefore around them — and that is quite enough to allow the free movement of people.

        1. Land Title, along with all the other necessary mass-society organization like irrigation and drainage, is the very foundation of big government.

          As Richard Manning notes in his Against the Grain, “Agriculture creates government.”

          And it usually takes something along the lines of genocide.

          The agri-CULTist’s abstract notion of ownership of our home planet’s surface has been a long Trail of Tears.

          Don’t forget, one of the first “divisions-of-labor” were the armed profession aggressors.

          1. White Injun needs to understand the scholarship he reads and broaden his horizon (to read authors like James Scott) because these quotes he uses only represent half the equation:

            Land Title, along with all the other necessary mass-society organization like irrigation and drainage, is the very foundation of big government.

            However, the sort of land title used by the agricultural states you describe vests in the government, which regularly usurps true private property rights in pursuit of its grand schemes. The best-studied cases show that the non-state societies (in upland Southeast Asia, for instance) had stronger protection of private property than did the agricultural societies where everything was owned by the government. If you want to call “land title” something in which the government could violate one’s rights at any time, you do not mean title at all.

            Yes, the large-scale agricultural societies were based on slavery, corv?e labor, and control over people, but Libertarians certainly aren’t advocating for that. Your straw man is so patently false and absurd that I can only suspect you are willfully misrepresenting libertarian positions.

            And by the way, those fun-loving gamboling Indians? Many of the groups had elaborate systems of property ownership that were recognized within the groups and elaborately recorded in oral formulation. Lack of western-style title (vested in the crown) ? lack of private property. Many of the systems were more like the informal ones described by Elinor Ostrom, but Indians were not some sort of hippy-dippy, New Agey communitarians, no matter how many times you say it or how much bad scholarship you read that says it.

            As Richard Manning notes in his Against the Grain, “Agriculture creates government.”

            Which might be relevant if anyone here wanted that sort of thing.

            And it usually takes something along the lines of genocide.

            Actually, true, historically, but what gives you the idea that anyone here supports large-scale agricultural states? That’s about as relevant to the discussion as stating that alien invasions usually end up in genocide. The U.S. agricultural system is as different from what you’re talking about as Soviet and American government systems were and the states you keep pointing to had property systems more akin to the Soviet system than the American one.

            The agri-CULTist’s abstract notion of ownership of our home planet’s surface has been a long Trail of Tears.

            The notion of ownership you talk about is totally foreign to the libertarian notion. Both are about ownership, but the one you decry is based on the notion of the state owning everything, not the people. It’s a rather basic difference with profound implications that you don’t seem to grasp. If “ownership” meant only what you think it does, we would all be opposed to it too.

            Don’t forget, one of the first “divisions-of-labor” were the armed profession aggressors.

            And your point is? Libertarians would object to them too at the most basic level.

            1. I’ve got James Scott’s book, you arrogant shitbird.

              And enough of your horribly thin whitewash of city-State (civilization) foundation of aggression.

        2. Please don’t feed the troll.

      2. Nice strawman; pretty sure most libertarians support the idea of open borders with closed citizenship.

        1. It’s not a strawman.

          The State creates borders of all kinds to restrict the free movement of Non-State societies, including privation property borders.

      3. Don’t feed the troll.

        1. You just don’t like how your hypocrisy is revealed.

  2. and Ron Paul occupies the moderate position, suggesting that some illegals (if appropriate) get green cards, but be ineligible for citizenship. And no federal aid to immigrants.

    When Ron Paul is the moderate in the debate, you probably have to consider whether you’ve gone off the deep end.

    1. (strictly, I think that supporting the Constitution is the moderate position, but I’m going by the establishment definition of moderate as “splitting the difference between positions”)

      1. Nice.
        I’ve been called “radical,” “nutjob,” “ultraconservative”* so often and so long it’s often hard to remember that should be the starting point. Thanks for the reminder!

        * What’s it mean that “conservative” is the name that baffles me?

  3. Correction: When Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich look like the only reasonably and sane candidates on immigration, your party is off the deep end.

  4. What part of we need 25% of the hispanic vote do people not get?

  5. Nobody has said “Nukular Titties” yet.

    1. You just did!

  6. Morning links at 9:02AM

  7. Oh come on. Simply open our country up with work visas; no citizenship for immigrants, but guarantee their children get citizenship. “problem” solved.

    1. As long as most of the undocumented illegals who wander across the southern border are brown, the problem will never be solved.

      I wonder how different the immigration debate would be, if most of the illegals were from English speaking countries?

      1. It wouldn’t be any different. Just look at the reception of the Irish during the mid to late 19th century. I promise you that if the Irish had been spilling into America at the same rate as illegals today there would be just as much alarm and uproar. Immigration has always been contentious and it always will be.

        1. Considering the way the Irish were treated, I’m sure it was about no different than today.

    2. There are socio issues that need to be dealt with. Simply opening up the border doesn’t necessarily solve the problem if the new people coming in don’t assimilate. That is the problem we are having today with illegal immigration. Many of them simply aren’t assimilating and that will be a future point of conflict in the future unless we address it.

      1. That’s why you only give them work visas and not citizenship; to promote assimilation of their children while never allowing them the ability to vote before being assimilated.

  8. The great thing about a Newt/Romney debate is that both of them have changed positions on the issues so many times, that it’s effectively like they agree on everything.

  9. I suspect this whole illegal immigrant “issue” is a red herring. Although I fully admit to not having all the facts.

    1. Do Illegals actually receive government benefits?

    2. Is this cost significant, when compared to the federal debt?

    3. There are obvious benefits (cheap labor). To what degree, if at all, do the benefits outweigh the liabilities?

    At first blush, it looks like illegals are being scapegoated to be the root cause of everything currently ailing the nation. (You know who else scapegoated an entire group of people?)

    In my eyes, the “issue” boils down to that which is feasible. A notion which neither side of the debate are willing to realistically address. Reality dictates one, two part, solution (if in fact you are serious about stopping Illegals from entering the country.)

    1. You need to shut down the border. Which means you need to be willing to use force with extreme prejudice (which neither side is willing to do). And

    2. You need to grant amnesty to those already here as the cost of rounding up 12M people and deporting them would be akin to the cost of Obamacare.

    The fact that neither side is willing to address reality (for political reasons), this issue does nothing but detract attention from important issues like ensuring we don’t become Greece.

    Where does my logic fail?

    1. of course, they receive govt benefits, if only the taxpayer picking up the cost of delivery for anchor babies. Then those kids go to school, maybe get free lunch.
      Significant? Don’t know, though states like CA seem to foot a hefty bill for it. It becomes significant in an age of govt overspending, wherein every marginal expense and some not-so-marginal comes under scrutiny.
      As to labor, I hold employers more liable than immigrants. Those who hire purposely low-ball low- or semi-skilled American workers with a wage that seems lousy to us but wondrous to an illegal. Plus, who is the illegal going to bitch to?

      Your suggestion is close to what Newt has put forth: first, close the border; second, have some legal status for illegals that does NOT make them citizens but DOES legitimize their presence here. Deportation ain’t gonna happen and everyone but the really rabid right knows it.

      Amnesty will not sell. All it does is ensure that the country faces the problem somewhere down the road, especially if shutting down the border is just talk.

  10. FTA: “While mass deportation of everyone illegally residing in the United States is unacceptable for both practical and humanitarian reasons,

    I have to quibble with this statement at least. Too many people take it as a given that we can’t deport 11 million people. But that is not true. We certainly can do it, and do it humanely if we want to.

    Without getting into a broader argument over whether or not it would be desirable, I just want it known that not everyone takes it as a given fact that we can’t deport that many people.

    1. Sure, we CAN do anything. The question is at what cost. Will the benefit outweigh that cost?

      I’m guessing a program that would round up and deport 12M people would be colossally expensive. I’m betting a T instead of a B when all is said and done.

      1. It can be done very cost effectively, as long as you are not in a hurry. Give a 6 month grace period for all illegals to leave the country. Let them know that after that time, they will face fines and imprisonment if they stay.

        During the six month period, set up special flights/charter buses/trains/loans to assist people in their journey home. This would be both humane and not reach into trillions of dollars.

        1. And how exactly are you going to identify them? Do you think there is a list somewhere? Perhaps they all signed in when crossing the border?

          You would need to hire thousands of additional LEOs to track them down, provide proof they are here illegitimately, provide logistics for returning them, their families…it would need to be a massive undertaking.

          You say, “as long as you are not in a hurry.” If it takes 10 years to find someone, how many children (i.e. American citizens, BY LAW) have they made in that time period? So now you are booting American citizens out of the country? How long will that tie up our legal system?

          No, I disagree that it can be done cheaply.

          1. You wouldn’t track them down. They would track themselves down and self-deport, out of fear of imprisonment or fines. That’s the whole point of having a grace period – to give them a fair amount of time to allow them to come forward and safely return home. Certainly you wouldn’t round up every single one, but it would get the job done much better than the very halfhearted methods we are using now.

  11. Theres no two ways about it Anna is a stunning beauty whose looks will open many doors for her in life.

    With delicate features reminiscent of the most beautiful porcelain doll, Anna is a girl of few words. However being quiet does not necessarily equal being shy as Petter found out during their first photo session together.

    Anna is the kind of girl who is perfectly comfortable being photographed naked and is unafraid to show off all the glory she was born with. And glorious she is – with a tiny body that is blessed with the trademark full breasts that have made Ukrainian girls sought after in the world of beauty.

    Anna only started modeling recently but with her combination of stunning looks, perfect body and quiet self-belief we think youll definitely be seeing her again!

  12. I’ve got a different A-word for a reasonable policy to deal with illegals: attrition. Require that any public services provided, whether education, welfare, or health services, be contingent on proof of citizenship or legal residence. Up penalties against employers who employ illegals until it becomes bad business to do so. Vigorously enforce the border. It won’t be long then before significantly more leave than come in, and the numbers of illegals in this country can be drastically reduced.

  13. “first, close the border; second, have some legal status for illegals that does NOT make them citizens but DOES legitimize their presence here.”

    The real problem, as you noted earlier, is that their kids get automatic citizenship if they’re born here, so even if illegals don’t get citizenship, their kids will if they stay here, which should be a joy for all the Anglo taxpayers in the southwest (and the nation at large) who get to pay for their schooling, the bulk of their healthcare, and the welfare services they will consume.

    Plus, how is giving illegal immigrants de facto citizenship not an amnesty?

    1. should have been “de facto legal residence”

  14. “What part of we need 25% of the hispanic vote do people not get?”

    Or, they could increase their share of the white vote (almost 3/4 of all votes in the 2010 midterm elections were cast by non-Hispanic whites). Get the votes of whites who aren’t interested in rushing to their own demographic oblivion, and maybe pick up a few votes from nonwhites and Hispanics who don’t care particularly about those stodgy Anglos, but aren’t keen on importing half of Mexico either.

  15. The first Bipartisan commitment to enacting the ‘Legal Workforce Act?’

    AMAZING! THIS IS GREAT NEWS! A Democrat with political will, to go against the Liberal Progressive grain. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA.) has cosponsored House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith’s Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885), making him the first Democrat to do so. In addition Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV.) added his co-sponsorship to this passage of this law just yesterday. The original co-sponsors to this bill, has been whittled down to only 32 co-sponsors to march it through, to be read in the House. This means we are closing in at a speed not seen before, when it comes to altering the course of illegal immigration. The Mandatory E-Verify systems that will begin to have a powerful effect on the 8.2 illegal aliens, who are taking jobs from average low income American Workers, will soon be confronted in every business to show proof that they are an authorized worker. The demonization by the special interests and all the far left and democrats, who have used every piece of their influence has failed. Mandatory E-Verification is well on its way, to becoming a tough law.

    Every law since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control act has been jeopardized by even the GOP career politicians, as neither party wanted any enforcement. Yes! And it succeeded; otherwise we wouldn’t have at least 20 million illegal aliens homesteading in the jurisdiction of the United States. They came by plane and overstayed their visa; they slipped across the border, in any large open regions from the South. They brought their desperate poverty with them, which have further added to our own underprivileged. Taxpayers in America have carried this financial yoke for decades. It’s like a repeating record that doesn’t sink into those in Congress that taxpayers are forced to by the Supreme Court’s decision, which we must pay for their upbringing.

    The bill, which is now officially bipartisan, would require 100% of businesses to begin using E-Verify for all new hires within 2 years and require all federal, state, and local governments to check new hires and existing employees within 6 months. Rep. Altmire represents Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District and is serving his 3rd term in Congress. He has earned a career grade by pro-sovereignty organization NumbersUSA of B.

    Congresswoman Bachmann (R-MN) in the past has co-sponsored legislation to make E-Verify mandatory nationally for all employers, and needs to add her co-sponsorship to Rep. Smith’s Mandatory E-Verify. Then Rep. Ron Paul (R-AN) who has always opposed amnesty, he also refuses to back enforcement measures that would lead to significant attrition of the illegal population. The candidates have no say in introducing or co-sponsoring the ‘Legal Workforce Act, as they cannot vote this powerful enforcement tool into law.

    Passing this Law will stop the hounding of the Obama Administration from threatening the States of Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah. The immediate effects will cause hesitation from millions of illegal aliens from arriving through ports of entry, by aircraft or whatever means? ‘Enforcement through Attrition’?forecasts the end of costly deportations, as countless numbers will leave of their own accord. As to the German auto executive, Detlev, or the Japanese Honda worker being taken into custody under the Alabama harsh immigration laws–Perhaps, just perhaps if the 9/11 terrorist murderer Mohamed Atta who was stopped in his vehicle by the police and then let. If this radical had been questioned more extensively, it could have changed the outcome of that dark day?

    It is this point in time patriotic Americans should contact the Ways and Means Committee responsible for bringing ‘The Legal Workforce Act’, bill H.R.2885 to the House floor in Congress. Only the American voter or legal resident has a say in this urgent matter, which will decrease large numbers of jobs STOLEN by the 8.2 illegal workers as estimated to self-deport. The number to call for the Washington political phones is 202-224-3121. The legislators need to pay attention to the People, instead of misleading us anymore. If you have further questions read about the widespread corruption in the federal and state governments at ‘Judicial Watch.’ Be attentive that the TEA PARTY does not agree with any kind of Amnesty, Dream Acts or Sanctuary cities.

    Controversial as it is, everybody who wants a green card who overstayed their visa, or just slipped through the border, must eventually leave the country to be reevaluated for legal entry. Bringing to America legal immigrants is a different condition altogether and should be promoted expeditiously. The beacon should be lit for the highest skilled workers conceivable, but we must remain sensible and not be hoodwinked by mediocre workers, who could easily end up on the taxpayer’s dime. Build the real fences along our lengthy border, and then we can talk about another ‘Bracero Project’ like during the World War 2 for agriculture.

    We have seen the financial damage, crime forced upon us by the impact of illegal immigration. So it’s time for all Americans, whether you are a legally processed resident or birthright citizen this illegal migrant and immigration. This should be bipartisan for every Democrat, Liberal, Independent or Republican to stop this travesty.

  16. this article is a little bit of interest, make me like it.

  17. I’m more in favor of the Trump model – no more immigration even legal, except for special cases. Certainly no more anchor babies.

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