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Getting Illegal Immigrants to Self-Deport

The idea, while impractical, is just simple and pain-free enough to appeal to many Americans.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

July 26, 2008 - 12:00 am

When confronted with difficult problems, Americans jump at simple and pain-free solutions. Nowhere is that more clear than in the raucous, and often ridiculous, debate over illegal immigration.

Want to secure the U.S.-Mexican border? Some idiot in Congress will propose a 2,000-mile fence that would only make it harder for the undocumented who are already in the United States to go home. Concerned about so-called anchor babies — U.S. born children who keep illegal immigrant parents tethered to U.S. soil? The Texas legislature is considering an equally idiotic proposal that ignores the inconvenient fact that these children are U.S. citizens by treating them as if they weren’t to deny them social services.

And then there is this one: Worried that U.S. authorities can’t round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants, especially since the border is a revolving door when most of those deported come back within weeks? The answer, some say, is to create an environment so hostile and so unwelcoming — by doing things like cracking down on employers — that illegal immigrants pack up and leave on their own.

Imagine that. Twelve million illegal immigrants would simply self-deport. If we get this right, imagine the cost savings. No more caravans of buses, mountains of paperwork, or overtime for Border Patrol agents to process deportation orders. Why, next, we could disband the IRS, put all U.S. taxpayers on their honor to pay their fair share of taxes on April 15th — or face the possibility of a self-audit.

Still, the idea, while laughably impractical, is just simple and pain-free enough to appeal to many Americans.

Those people point to what seems to be occurring in Arizona, where a state-led crackdown on employers — admittedly, a nice change where authorities pick on someone their own size — seems to be one reason that many illegal immigrants are fleeing the state. Another major factor is the stagnant economy, including a slowdown in the Arizona construction field popular with illegal immigrants.

But here’s the key: To where are these illegal immigrants fleeing? Proponents of self-deportation like to assume that those who leave are going home to Mexico. But what exactly is waiting for these people in Mexico — a job that pays $6 per day, assuming there is even one to be had there? If illegal immigrants think they have other options, you had better believe they’re going to exercise them.

The last time I was in Phoenix, just a few months ago, I spoke to a couple of illegal immigrants who said that not everyone is leaving the state, and that especially those individuals with families are sticking around and taking their chances. Others are going to other states, they said, mentioning Texas, Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, and Iowa.

As a footnote to this story, no sooner had Arizonans succeeded in purging at least some illegal immigrants from their midst than they began to worry about who was going to do the jobs that these immigrants used to do –- you know, the jobs that, according to fable spinners like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, Americans would gladly do if only wages were higher. So now the Arizona legislature is considering another proposal — one to create a state-run guest worker program that would import a whole new crop of Mexican immigrants. Just think. They might even wind up recruiting some of the same people they just scared off.

That’s a perfect example of the schizophrenia that many Americans suffer with when it comes to immigration, illegal and otherwise. They raise their voices, pound their chests, and declare they’ve had enough of Mexican immigrants –- along with changes to the culture, language, etc. — only to soften their hard-line when they find themselves craving another helping.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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