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Ruben Navarrett Jr / Politics

A Humane Way to Deportations

SAN DIEGO -- Allow me to say a few words in defense of a concept that is so simple and so steeped in common sense that it shouldn't need defending: the self-deportation of illegal immigrants.

The idea that those who can't find work in the United States would decide to cut their losses and head home is infinitely more humane than what occurs now when the heavy-handed federal government takes it upon itself to aggressively arrest, detain and remove illegal immigrants. Also, voluntarily leaving the country takes the control over one's destiny away from government and returns it to the individual, who is better equipped to make personal decisions about what's best for him and his family. And, finally, self-deportation is more orderly and allows families to stay intact instead of what routinely occurs every day under the Obama administration -- families divided on both sides of the border, children stripped from parents, etc.

I've thought this for a while. A few years back, I wrote a column urging illegal immigrants who were struggling during the economic downturn to voluntarily go home. There was this kind of reverse remittance process going on at the time. Instead of illegal immigrants sending money to Mexico, people in Mexico were sending money to unemployed sons and daughters in the United States. Given that Mexican migrants typically go north to improve the economic standing of family members back home, it made no sense for them to be receiving gifts of money when they should be doing the giving instead. So I told the runaways to do an about-face and go home.

Now Mitt Romney is saying much the same thing, but he is doing a horrible job of getting his point across. It comes off sounding as though he wants to make the lives of illegal immigrants so intolerable that they in turn save us the trouble of removing them and simply leave on their own.

During an interview on Spanish-language Radio Bilingue, host Samuel Orozco suggested to Romney spokeswoman Sharon Castillo that this is precisely what the Republican candidate is planning for illegal immigrants -- to "make their lives so miserable that they would have to leave the country."

Oh boy. I understand that Obama supporters, including members of the media, don't have a leg to stand on by way of defending the administration's heavy-handed immigration policies and record 1.5 million deportations, and so they'd rather talk about anything else. But those who criticize the Romney approach have totally lost perspective.

You want to talk about making lives miserable? Fine. There are plenty of heart-wrenching stories of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Obama's America busting down doors with guns drawn, dragging illegal immigrants out of their homes amid screaming children, placing them in shackles and transporting them under armed guard as if they were Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. An investigation by PBS' "Frontline" documented cases of immigration officials putting people in detention facilities where they are sexually and physically abused. According to newspaper stories, immigration officials also hold detainees for long periods of time without access to counsel, and take away their U.S.-born children and put them in foster care for strangers to raise.

By contrast, Romney has repeatedly said that he doesn't believe in rounding up and deporting millions of illegal immigrants. Hence was born the idea of self-deportation.

In fact, hard-core right-wingers probably think Romney has gone soft on immigration. And those on the left who instinctively oppose anything he says need to do more thinking. In response to questioning from Spanish-language media, Romney is all but declaring that, if elected, he would give illegal immigrants who are already here a kind of de-facto amnesty, no doubt to please the business community, which has an insatiable appetite for immigrant workers.

You know how this works. If these people don't go home on their own, Romney certainly won't force them to leave. This wink-and-nod plan is his answer to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It might as well be called: "Don't Leave, We Won't Hunt You Down."

Meanwhile, Obama supporters insist that the president really cares about what happens to illegal immigrants, that his record number of deportations is simply the result of following the law, and that he is committed to immigration reform in a second term.

That's how it goes. Republicans are pushing self-deportation. The Democrats settle for self-delusion.

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Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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