In its March/April issue, Mother Jones Magazine goes “inside the self-deportation movement,” exploring “164 state anti-immigration bills and the forces behind them.” The concept of “self deportation,” popularized by GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, is central to the philosophy of “attrition through enforcement.” The basic idea is that, if you make life hard enough for unauthorized immigrants, they will pick up and leave of their own accord, which means the state will not have to hunt them down, detain them, and deport them.

This is an idea so full of holes that it carries no water. Putting it into practice inflicts massive collateral damage on the economy and the native-born population. Moreover, this flawed idea is being propagated by a relatively small group of hard-line anti-immigrant activists who are using states as laboratories for their ideologically driven experiments. Mother Jones fleshes out these points:

  • Paul Reyes details the self-inflicted economic damage caused by Alabama’s now-infamous anti-immigrant law, HB 56. He describes the exodus of immigrant farm workers, not to mention consumers and taxpayers, which is still taking its toll on the state’s economy. Yet, as Reyes notes, this exodus is precisely what the architects of HB 56 intended—regardless of its economic consequences.
  • Suzy Khimm profiles Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and legal activist who is the prime architect of the anti-immigrant bills now making their way through state houses across the country.  Khimm describes not only this latest of Kobach’s anti-immigrant crusades, but also his early years in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, where he took aim at Arab immigrants in the wake of 9/11. It was at this time that Kobach first made his dubious assertion “that local and state officials have the ‘inherent authority’ to enforce federal immigration laws.”
  • Ian Gordon builds an “immigration hardliner family tree” to serve as “a guide to the funders, think tanks, lawyers, and politicians behind harsh Arizona-style legislation.” Naturally, this family tree begins with John Tanton, the Michigan eye surgeon who was instrumental in creating three of the modern anti-immigrant movement’s institutional stalwarts: the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA. Not surprisingly, Kris Kobach is enmeshed in Tanton’s web.
  • Ian Gordon and Tasneem Raja map out the 164 state anti-immigrant laws which have passed since 2010. These laws dealt with “everything from driver’s license eligibility to the mandatory use of E-Verify.” Gordon and Raja point out that “private-prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America” stand to benefit financially from these laws as more immigrants are detained.

Mother Jones exposes the concept of “self-deportation” for what it really is: a unworkable and cynical “solution” to the problem of unauthorized immigration that doesn’t actually solve anything. Driven by anti-immigrant ideology, a small cadre of activists is pushing this absurd concept upon any state lawmaker who is uninformed enough to take it seriously. But lawmakers should educate themselves: “self-deportation” is a dead-end.

Photo by Mother Jones: The Immigration Hardliner Family Tree.

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