The Return of Self-Deportation

What Rick Santorum has to say on immigration or any other topic isn’t that important in itself. But he’s the presidential candidate most fully committed to a rollback of immigration–even legal immigration–as the central plank in his platform for dealing with wage stagnation and economic inequality. So there is a certain canary-in-the-coal-mine quality to what he decides to say about the central mystery of conservative immigration policy: what exactly is to happen to the 11 million or so undocumented workers if any sort of “amnesty”–defined as legalization–is ruled out.

According to Bloomberg Politics‘ Sahil Kapur, Santorum is completely silent on that rather important question.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who opposes a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., stopped short Sunday of calling for their deportation.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, the former Pennsylvania senator pressed his case for reducing legal and illegal immigration, arguing that new immigrants harm wages for recent immigrants and American workers.

“I approach this as: what is in the best interests of America, particularly American workers, and particularly those workers who are not doing well in America?” he said, adding that “we have more people living in this country who were not born in this country than anytime in the history of this country.”

So what would he do about the estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally?

“You just use E-Verify. You require E-Verify,” Santorum said.

No path to legalization?

“No,” he said.

So how is E-Verify a solution? It undermines the ability of the undocumented to make a living. And thus it adds to the incentives to “self-deport,” along, presumably, with a significantly more hostile law enforcement posture that does not, however, extend to assuming the astronomical costs and moral opprobrium associated with deportation by the federal government.

The sooner Santorum and the other candidates adopting the “no legalization” position tell us whether they are for “self-deportation”–basically a much less humane continuation of the status quo–or the “boxcar solution,” the better we can understand what they are conveying beyond the dog-whistles to nativists.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.