Romney's 'Self-Deport' Option Could Be Part of House Immigration Plan

The House immigration working group is mulling a proposal that involves “self-deportation” as part of a strategy to make a comprehensive overhaul acceptable to conservatives.

The concept was thrust into the national conversation by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor infamously suggested during the GOP primary campaign that illegal immigrants might leave the U.S. voluntarily — or “self-deport” — over time if the government eliminated incentives for them to stay, including the ability to find work. Romney was responding to a question about how to address the problem of undocumented residents short of forcible government roundups and deportations.

The remark was ridiculed by Democrats and later credited with costing Romney the Hispanic support he needed to run competitively against President Barack Obama. But the bipartisan House immigration working group is developing a proposal designed to make self-deportation an attractive option for undocumented immigrants as they navigate what would presumably be a completely new legal framework. The plan was detailed by a Republican congressional aide familiar with the House working group’s negotiations.

As I reported Monday, this new system would require illegal immigrants who want to legalize to plead guilty to breaking the law and accept a sentence of probation in federal court. The arduous path to citizenship also would mandate that newly legalized immigrants pay fines and back taxes. However, undocumented immigrants who either couldn’t afford or simply didn’t want to pay penalties that might run in the tens of thousands of dollars could avoid doing so.

Under a House working group proposal, illegal immigrants who wanted to forgo the payment of back taxes and fines would first have to identify as undocumented with federal authorities, probably within six months of the new immigration law going into effect. They would have another six months to leave the country, after which they could get in line to immigrate legally under a new system that would include expanded visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers intended to facilitate entry into the country for the purposes of obtaining employment.

"You can take advantage of new visa programs and not have to pay those back taxes," the GOP congressional aide said.

The revamped and strengthened e-verify component of the proposed immigration overhaul is supposed to discourage these former undocumented immigrants from once again crossing the border illegally. How? House immigration negotiators are proposing stiff penalties for employees who hire undocumented individuals, and would simplify the e-verify process to make the checks easy to process. Businesses would have anywhere from six months to 18 months to achieve compliance, depending on their size.

Just last week, House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., scheduled hearings for an e-verify bill sponsored by immigration hardliner Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and a bill to overhaul the employment visa program. The latter legislation was authored by Goodlatte. The House Judiciary committee also plans to grant a hearing to the Senate's "gang of eight" proposal after it returns from this week's recess.