Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he expects all undocumented immigrants to leave the country through a program of "self-deportation."
During an NBC Republican presidential debate in Florida on Monday, The Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith noted that the candidate has said that all undocumented immigrants should leave the country, but has said that he would not "round up people and deport them."
"So if you don't deport them, how do you send them home?" Smith wondered.
"Well, the answer is self-deportation," Romney replied. "People decide that they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here."
"Isn't that what we have now?" Smith asked. "If somebody doesn't feel they have the opportunity in America, they can go back anytime they want to."
"Yes, we would have a card that indicates who's here legally," Romney explained. "And if people are not able to have a card and have that through an E-Verify system to determine that they are here legally then they are going to find that they can't get work here. If people can't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work."
At a campaign event in Iowa last month, the former Massachusetts governor outlined his plan to allow immigrants the chance to receive a green card if they "go back home."
"For those that have come here illegally, they might have a transition time to allow them to set they affairs in order, and then go back home and get in line with everybody else," Romney said. "They start in the back of the line, not at the front of the line."
"We’re not going to go across the country and round people up. It’s just too big of a task. There are what? Eleven, 12, 15 million — who knows the total number? But what we are going to do is that we are going to give people a chance to transition to be able to go home to get in line and then, ultimately if they would like to, to have a green card to come into this country legally."
As Mother Jones' Adam Serwer pointed out, having a immigrants deport themselves is a conservative idea that has been around at least since 2005, when it was pushed by the Center for Immigration Studies.
"Although immigration reform advocates would prefer a solution that involves a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here, Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable," Serwer wrote.
"But make no mistake, when Romney is discussing 'self-deportation,' he's talking about creating a United States where parents are afraid to register their kids for school or get them immunized because they might be asked for proof of citizenship. He's talking about the type of country where local police can demand your immigration status based on mere suspicion that you don't belong around here. 'Self-deportation' is just a cleaner, less cruel-sounding way of endorsing harsh, coercive government polices in order to make life for unauthorized immigrants so unbearable that they have no choice but to find some way to leave."