Self-Deportation: Der Mittmeister Was Right

During one of the myriad Republican primary debates that took place this past January, the issue of illegal immigration was tossed onto the table and candidate Mitt Romney took a stab at it by suggesting that if the current immigration laws were supplemented by legislation requiring documentation to work anywhere in the U.S., many if not most illegals would leave the country.

The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.

Almost immediately the punditocracy and chattering classes on both sides of the political chasm nearly busted a collective gut laughing in derision at the apparent stupidity of the remark without stopping to think for a moment about the operative words: “legal documentation.”

If policies such as E-Verify were implemented nationwide, almost all illegals would be barred from working just about anywhere in the U.S. except, perhaps, for those few business enterprises where cash is still king and employers are willing to pay their workers off the books. There wouldn’t be enough gainful employment for the vast majority of illegal aliens – most of whom would simply pack their bags and head home. It turns out Der Mittmeister was right.

As it turns out, self-deportation is already occurring – thanks largely to a stagnant economy that is worsening:

  • In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
  • In the five-year period a decade earlier (1995 to 2000), about 3 million Mexicans had immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S. born-children had moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
  • This sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.—to 6.1 million in 2011, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. Over the same period the number of authorized Mexican immigrants rose modestly, from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.

While poor economic conditions in the U.S. and an improving economy in Mexico are the principle drivers of this exodus, let’s not forget the impact of law enforcement:

  • Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.
  • As apprehensions at the border have declined, deportations of unauthorized Mexican immigrants—some of them picked up at work or after being arrested for other criminal violations—have risen to record levels. In 2010, nearly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants—73% of them Mexicans—were deported by U.S. authorities.
  • Although most unauthorized Mexican immigrants sent home by U.S. authorities say they plan to try to return, a growing share say they will not try to come back to the U.S. According to a survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants, 20% of labor migrants in 2010 said they would not return, compared with just 7% in 2005.

It follows that this demographic shift from illegal immigration to self-deportation will necessarily impact the political equation where the Hispanic vote is concerned:

For Democrats, the expected long-term explosion of Latino voters may not end up materializing.  While there was a significant spike in the Hispanic population at the first half of the last decade, the economic recession and tighter immigration crackdowns have slowed that to a trickle.  It’s not a given that Hispanic voters will make a larger share of the electorate than in 2008, as many in the Obama campaign had presumed (and depended upon). Already Democrats are facing challenges registering Hispanic voters in battleground states, like Arizona.

For Republicans, the illegal immigration litmus test, forcing conservative candidates to toe a hardline on the issue, could very well recede in the near future.  A January Pew poll showed the number of Republicans considering illegal immigration as a top issue has plummeted, dropping from 69 percent in 2007 to 48 percent at the beginning of this year.  The future Republican positioning on immigration could very well be closer to the policy views of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio  than that of hardliners like Iowa Rep. Steve King.

No wonder U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is concentrating his firepower on border states attempting to enforce federal immigration laws: the Democrat Party is facing the erosion of a dependable voter bloc.

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