What others say: Bad immigration ideas

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The following editorial appeared recently in the New York Times:

The Republican presidential candidates have not made immigration a focus of their campaigns. But, as they head toward a debate on Wednesday in Arizona, ground zero for anti-immigrant hostility, it is a good time to ask hard questions about immigration. The odds are bad that they will have sensible answers.

These candidates have abandoned decades of Republican moderation on immigration, disowning views once held by Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush and Congressional Republicans — like Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham and John McCain — who once led a coalition for reform but have since either left the Senate or their principles behind.

Mitt Romney has moved farthest to the fringe. His scheme for fixing immigration is mass expulsion: a fantasy of ridding the country of 11 million unauthorized immigrants by making their lives unbearable. The key to his harsh vision is "self-deportation," the deceptively bland-sounding policy that he introduced at a debate. It accepts that arresting and expelling so many millions would be impossible — like deporting the State of Ohio. But it replaces that delusion with another: That people can be made miserable enough to leave on their own.

Newt Gingrich is slightly less extreme. He rightly scoffs that "self-deportation" is a pandering fantasy, and he supports legalizing a few grandmothers and students who join the military, though, like Romney, he would deny them any chance to become Americans. He, too, staunchly defends rogue states against federal civil-rights enforcement.

Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have been less explicit in their immigration prescriptions, though Paul has voiced a libertarian's doubts about a border fence and acknowledged that Hispanics are being made "scapegoats." He and Santorum, like the others, support an immediate border lockdown and want the government to enforce English as an official language.

Poll after poll has shown that the American public supports moderate reform. Many conservatives do, too. In Utah, the Mormon Church has joined a broad coalition of business, civic and religious organizations in endorsing humane immigration measures, free of shrill hostility. In Kansas, Kobach's home state, businesses are trying to draft a plan to be more welcoming to immigrant workers. But the Republican presidential hopefuls are pandering to the far-right.

President Obama has hardly been inspiring on this issue. He has pushed deportations to record levels while failing to reform immigration more humanely. But he, at least, understands that the right immigration solution is one that doesn't reward illegality but channels immigrant energy and aspirations to fruitful ends. It is the hard-won compromise that combines tougher border and workplace controls with a legalization path and a well-designed future flow of workers to meet our economy's needs.

That's a plan that Mitt Romney, a few Mitt Romneys ago, once admired. It's the one he deplores now.

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