Why Romney’s Immigration Policies Will Take Him Nowhere In November

Our guest bloggers are Angela Maria Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, and Philip E. Wolgin, Immigration Policy Analyst, at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

After Mitt Romney’s easy win in Tuesday’s Arizona Republican primary, a number of commentators pointed to the fact that immigration just did not seem to be a big issue in the state. So does Romney’s win mean that immigration is fading as an important issue on the campaign?

Not at all. Arizona was a closed Republican primary, and when it comes down to it, all of the Republican candidates have taken a harsh stand on immigration. The real contest, however, is down the road in November.

In advance of Super Tuesday, we review Romney’s immigration positions, and explain why his policies will imperil his candidacy with Latino voters across the country.

Romney’s Views Are Still Outside of the Mainstream

Mitt Romney has taking an ever increasing hard-line on immigration, telling audiences nationwide that he would veto the DREAM Act, and most recently calling Arizona’s anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070, a “model” for the rest of the nation. He enthusiastically touted the endorsement of nativist attorney Kris Kobach, and most recently accepted the endorsement of Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, who signed S.B. 1070 into law nearly two years ago and has defended the draconian law every step of the way.

But even as he cruised to victory in Arizona, Romney’s tough immigration positions did not resonate with Latinos in the state. In a Public Policy Polling poll released a week before the Arizona primary, Mitt Romney had only a 27 percent favorable rating with Hispanics, and a 66 percent unfavorable rating. Nationwide, 74 percent of Latino voters oppose or strongly oppose Arizona’s S.B. 1070, the model of self-deportation that Romney and Kobach want to make a national policy.

And these negative views are not confined to voters in Arizona. The most recent Latino Decisions poll of Latinos nationwide, released on January 25, found that most Latinos saw immigration reform and the DREAM Act as the most important issue facing their community that Congress and the President should tackle, with fixing the economy coming in a close second. Overwhelmingly, voters stated that if the election were held today, they would vote for Barack Obama 67 percent to 25 percent over Mitt Romney. Likewise when asked about their views on what the government’s policy toward undocumented immigrants should be, 71 percent chose a program of earned citizenship, while only 11 percent thought that the government should make all undocumented immigrants felons.

Most importantly, the issue of immigration is deeply personal to Latinos – 53 percent know someone who is undocumented, and a full one-quarter of Latino voters know a person facing deportation or who has been deported.

The general public as well has time and time again supported a balanced approach to immigration, with increased border security on the one hand, and a pathway to earned legalization on the other, rather than simply making life more and more difficult for unauthorized immigrants.

Self-Deportation is a Myth

Among the centerpieces of Romney’s immigration policies is the idea of self-deportation, or that if individual states and the government as a whole make life as difficult as possible for immigrants, then they will choose to leave the country on their own. Romney touts this plan as the better alternative to sending Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers after each and every one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.

But take a closer look at the idea of self-deportation, and the facts just do not add up. As our recent report “Staying Put but Still in the Shadows” illustrates, unauthorized immigrants are not leaving the country even in the face of harsh anti-immigrant laws. They choose to stay in the U.S. regardless of what the government tries to do to them because most have been here for more than 10 years and live in families, they understand the risks associated with making the return trip, and they know that if the job market conditions are bad in the United States, they are even worse in their home countries.

Worse still, even while state and local anti-immigrant laws fail to achieve their self-deportation goals, they wreak havoc on the communities in which they are implemented. Arizona’s S.B. 1070 cost that state over $141 million in conference cancellations alone, while Alabama’s law, H.B. 56, could cost that state up to $11 billion in lost economic value not to mention the disruptions caused to everyday life as immigrants and Latinos in the state live in fear of being stopped on the street.


Whether or not Republican voters continue to vote for Mitt Romney, or whether they shift toward the other candidates such as Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich in the primaries, the ever increasing hard-right turn of Romney, and the continued talk of “self-deportation” is only further alienating Latino voters, as well as mainstream Americans. The Kobach-line on immigration might play well today, but the real contest is to come in November.