As the U.S. Supreme Court finally takes up a lawsuit over Arizona's restrictive immigration law, there are some leading immigration reform activists who are calling Mitt Romney's stated position of supporting policies that encourage "self-deportation" nothing more than "fantasy."
Romney has previously called Arizona's immigration policies "a model" for the country, and said he favors the state's law because it provides incentive for "self-deportation" by making life for undocumented immigrants more miserable than it was in their country of origin.
While the Romney campaign has since clarified that he did not call the law itself a "model" but was instead endorsing the state's electronic citizenship verification system, his carefully worded positions on how to deal with undocumented immigrants have not sat well with leading advocates. Throughout his campaign, Romney has repeatedly advocated Arizona's verification system, but when he speaks about the subject he always neglects to note that a virtually identical system is already in place nationally.
"We need a humane solution for the undocumented," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, explained to Raw Story. "That means they have to be able to acquire legal status, go through a background check, learn English, pay a fine and get on the path to citizenship... Self-deportation is a fantasy. People are here to work and here to help America prosper. If America is not prospering, immigrants do not want to come here."
That claim would seem to be borne out by recent data from both Mexico and the U.S., compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center and published this week in a wide-ranging study on immigration trends. The study found that immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has hit "net zero" in the last five years, largely due to growth in the Mexican economy and a lack of jobs in the U.S.
"These state laws we're seeing that make life unbearable for these immigrants -- they make life unbearable for more than just the immigrants," Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, told Raw Story on Tuesday. "I think the notion of self-deportation, according to the premise of those who espouse it, is a fantasy."
She added: "That notion is based on the idea that you can make life terrifying difficult for people in their communities, and that would force them to leave. The strategy those folks are espousing, I don't think are the ones that are driving the stabilization of immigration flow, let alone the consequences of those policies on the states where they've been adopted, which is billions of dollars in losses for the states, and not just to the population they're trying to root out."
"The fact is that the Obama administration has deported 1.2 million people over the last three and a half years," Noorani said. "There's no getting around that. But based on the data, it's clear that people are not coming to the United States because the economy is not presenting a lot of job opportunities right now. Frankly, our question is, when our economy comes back, will we have a functioning legal immigration system to make sure we have the workers and workforce that's necessary?"
"At the end of the day, that's what our nation wants: to create jobs, to create growth and serve as a beacon to the best and the brightest in other countries," he concluded.
For Romney, the political heat from leading immigration activists comes at a crucial moment in his campaign, just as he's looking to seal the deal with Republicans and pivot to more moderate positions on immigration to begin drawing in some of the Latino vote. He's already been making campaign stops with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a potential choice for vice president whose parents are Cuban, and Rubio has of late been advocating a more conservative version of the Democrats' DREAM Act, which would enable the children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.
President Obama, meanwhile, continues to promise that his administration will prioritize immigration reform, which has thus far been entirely shut out by congressional Republicans. Polling last year (PDF) found that about three in four Americans support creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that does not require their deportation -- a position the Obama administration appears to favor.
In spite of that poll, a clear majority of Americans also support Arizona's immigration law, which would require police to check the citizenship of individuals they suspect may be undocumented immigrants.
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