The Core of the Argument over Self-Deportation

By Mark Krikorian on January 26, 2012

Gingrich's interview yesterday with Jorge Ramos of Univision (video and transcript) had a telling moment that I think gets at the basic policy disagreement about illegal immigration. Ramos asks what Gingrich would do with the vast majority of illegal aliens who wouldn’t qualify under his phony-baloney draft board scheme:

JR: But what I was saying is that you are proposing a legalization plan for those who have been here more than 20 years.

NG: Right.

JR: Naturally you are leaving outside the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

NG: Right.

JR: So what will you do with them?

NG: I would urge them to get a guest worker permit.

JR: Which you know they are not going to get it.

NG: Why?

JR: Because the law says otherwise.

NG: No, because we’re writing a new law, Jorge. You and I are sitting here talking about a new law. We can write a law which makes them eligible to apply for the guest worker permit.

In other words, all illegal aliens would get amnesty, it's just that some would get a green card and others would a card of a different color. This is a distinction without a difference.

But what the exchange highlighted for me is the basic disagreement over the purpose of immigration law enforcement. Maybe this is obvious, but Gingrich and other supporters of amnesty say they favor things like mandatory E-Verify and all the rest, and they may even mean it, but only prospectively — i.e., only as a deterrent to future illegal immigration. They want all illegal aliens already here to be able to stay. Former congressman Bruce Morrison put it concisely speaking on a panel last year about a report demonstrating that Arizona's 2007 E-Verify law induced a significant number of illegal aliens to self-deport. He bemoaned the finding, saying "the conversation about employment verification at the worksite should be a prevention conversation as opposed to an enforcement conversation."

If I were to boil it down to a slogan, it would be "Every illegal alien's departure is a tragedy."

Immigration hawks, on the other hand, see a dual purpose for immigration law: both as a deterrent for the future and as a way to induce a significant share of the illegal immigrants already here to leave. In this way, the illegal population would decline over time, through attrition, allowing us to back out of a problem over time that took us time to get into. This would also ensure that our enforcement measures — even for prospective purposes — had time to be implemented and fine-tuned and overcome judicial and budgetary attacks. A debate over the prudence of amnesty might be appropriate a number of years down the line, after the size of the illegal population was reduced and the enforcement mechanisms put in place, but right now it's not even a legitimate topic for discussion.

In a word, the amnesty party has its own version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, where the United States has a one-way border — once you get across you never have to go back the other way.