During last night’s national security debate, emerging GOP presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich explained that he would support giving undocumented immigrants legal status without offering citizenship. “If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out,” he said.
Former frontrunner Mitt Romney’s campaign immediately saw a chance to present their candidate as the anti-immigrant candidate to an increasingly nativist GOP electorate. After the debate, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said Gingrich was setting up a plan to offer amnesty to undocumented immigrants like the 1986 amnesty act. But while attacking Gingrich for supposedly supporting amnesty, Fehrnstrom couldn’t explain what Romney’s plan would be — beyond creating a hostile environment, that is:
I followed up by asking Fehrnstrom whether Romney believed in deporting those immigrants who are already here illegally. “He doesn’t believe in granting them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom responded. […] Finally, after I asked the question for a seventh time, Fehrnstrom responded by emphasizing employer enforcement as a way to get illegal immigrants to leave through attrition. “Well, if you cut off their employment, if they can’t get work, if they can’t get benefits like in state tuition, they will leave,” he said. […] Just to be clear, I wanted to know about those that still could remain under such a scenario. “I just answered your question Phil, and you keep hectoring me about it,” he snapped. “You turn off the magnets, no in state tuition, no benefits of any kind, no employment. You put in place an employment verification system with penalties for employers that hire illegals, that will shut off access to the job market, and they will self retreat.They will go to their native countries.”
Surprisingly, this is actually a significant move to the left for Romney. In 2008, Romney actually suggested that he could support mass deportations so long as undocumented immigrants with deep roots in this United States are given “enough time to organize their affairs and go home.” Nevertheless, Romney’s newest position still aligns him very closely with the far right. At the end of the day, Romney’s immigration plan boils down to the Alabama plan under HB 56: create conditions so terrible that they’d have to leave.