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Conservatism vs. Restrictionism: The Unintended Consequences of Self-Deportation

by Robert Gittelson

As the Co-Founder of the Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition, I often have occasion to explain the true conservative philosophy behind a comprehensive solution to our nation's broken immigration system. In principal, conservatives believe in the rule of law, but more significantly in the moral and compassionate framework of values that form the foundation of the rule of law. Restrictionists tend to often be conservatives, but on the issue of immigration, they have an ideology of lower immigration levels, and adhere only to the rule of law arguments, forsaking the idea of striking a balance with the moral and compassionate foundation that our nation has been built upon. Therefore, there is a fundamental difference between those that argue for a conservative and comprehensive solution that will solve our immigration crisis, and the restrictionists that fundamentally want to deport or "attrite" all 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants and their legal or citizen relatives, regardless of the moral, economic, and geo-political consequences to America. Most conservatives are not restrictionists.

I recently wrote an Op-Ed, in the form of, "An Open Letter to Mitt Romney on Immigration," that was published in the Christian Post. In that article, I urged Governor Romney, who has embraced restrictionism rather than conservatism on this issue, to "think carefully on the human, economic, and geo-political consequences that your 'attrition through enforcement' policy would have on this country." More specifically, in the article, I went into several of the reasons why I felt that Governor Romney's stated policy of "self-deportation," was in conflict of the tenets of "compassionate conservatism." When we analyze this issue, our conservative coalition starts with values; Family values, American values, and Judeo-Christian values. When we approach the subject of how we are to treat the immigrant among us, even if they are here without documentation, we are extremely uncomfortable with any plan that, in essence, seeks to starve them out of the country. I mostly highlighted the argument that Governor Romney's restrictionist policy of self-deportation not only lacked any compassion, but that it went against the core values on which our nation was founded. In other words, in the above mentioned Op-Ed, I concentrated on the "human" and moral consequences that such a policy entailed. Today, I would like to expound a bit on the economic and geo-political consequences of a self-deportation strategy.

I note that Mitt Romney supporter, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach - an ardent opponent of illegal immigration - spoke at the CPAC conference on Saturday, 2/11/12. He stated that since Arizona passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007 requiring Arizona employers to use the E-Verify system, "people started self-deporting by the tens of thousands." The idea of self-deportation, which Kobach said should properly be referred to as "attrition through enforcement," has become a buzzword since Mitt Romney used it repeatedly in a January GOP presidential debate. He said that illegal immigrants shouldn't be forcefully deported en masse, but encouraged to leave voluntarily through policies that denied them opportunities for employment. Kobach is supporting Mitt Romney's presidential bid and acting as an informal advisor on immigration issues, according to reports.

I mention this, because the restrictionist attrition through enforcement approach has been made prominent through the work of the John Tanton network of affiliated anti-immigrant and immigration organizations, namely the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an organization that employs Kris Kobach. This is not a new policy, it has been the work of these folks, and in particular Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, for several years now.

I would first of all like to say that I sincerely question Kobach's assertion that tens of thousands of folks have self deported because of Arizona's SB 1070, a law that Kobach basically wrote for Arizona on behalf of FAIR. I would agree that many thousands of undocumented immigrants - along with thousands of their documented family members - have indeed left Arizona. However, I suspect that the vast majority of these people simply left Arizona for a more immigrant friendly state. Over the past several months, I have had the honor of speaking in both Arizona, and Alabama - another Kobach authored anti-immigrant law state. In speaking to the remaining immigrant residents of these states, I was told how many folks moved to other neighboring states to escape the anti-immigrant environment that these laws created. Nobody really even considered actually self-deporting, although I imagine that in some small percentage of cases that probably did happen from time to time.

However, I do recognize that should our nation be foolish enough to make self-deportation a national or federal strategy, it would result in many immigrants self-deporting, while many more immigrants would be forced further into our underground economy. That being said lets talk a little about what would happen should we force attrition of these millions of undocumented residents - along with their documented family members.

I mentioned above that there would be geo-political consequences to such a policy. On March 24th, 2009, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote an article. The article actually supported immigration theories that an attrition policy would embolden the leftists in our own hemisphere. It should not escape our notice that over the past few years, nine of our Central and South American Allies have elected socialist or communist leaders, most recently Guatemala in 2008, and El Salvador in 2009. However, Krikorian notes in his article, "Mexico Isn't a Failed State - Yet", that "A failure by the Mexican political system to curtail lawlessness and violence could result [in] a surge of millions of refugees crossing the U.S. border to escape the domestic misery of violence, failed economic policy, poverty, hunger, joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and injustice of a criminal state." Perhaps more ominously, he suggests that we "Send in the Marines? In the extreme, and unlikely, case of genuine state collapse and anarchy or civil war in Mexico, we'll need to consider military action to prevent mass refugee surges. Caspar Weinberger imagined something like this in his 1993 book The Next War, which included a scenario of an invasion of Mexico to overthrow a Hugo Chávez-style dictator whose mismanagement and repression was driving huge numbers of people to flee."

The "disconnect" here is that in the same article, Krikorian continues to support restrictionist immigration theories that would facilitate the very prime motivational factors for these leftist uprisings, including the leftist pressures that are waiting to explode on our southern border; poverty and hopelessness. Krikorian's infamous "Attrition Through Enforcement" theory, which he still irresponsibly insists in his article that we should follow, could only serve to undermine what is left of our capitalist allies in Latin America. His theory advocates that instead of passing CIR, we should instead enforce our current immigration laws fully, so that our 11,000,000 or so undocumented economic refugees would face starvation and homelessness here, and would therefore need to self-deport back to primarily Latin-American countries in order to survive.

Putting aside for a moment the horrific moral and ethical ramifications of his theory, (i.e.: "poverty, hunger, joblessness, mindless cruelty and injustice"), what would be the net result of this foolish exercise? Mexico and the other Latin American nations would be monumentally adversely affected not only by the addition of millions of starving self-deportees, but also because of the loss of remittances, due to the return of their millions of expatriate breadwinners, now unemployed, broke, and harboring fresh ill will towards America. Millions of disenfranchised self-deportees in a Mexico left economically ruined through the loss of their 2nd largest source of revenue, (remittances), would push Mexico over the edge, and it would become the 10th Latin American country to be toppled by what can only be described as the alarming trend of Latin American socialism or communism. Furthermore, the net effect of this geo-political transformation would be to embolden influential communist strongmen such as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega right on our southern border.

In terms of the economics of a self-deportation plan, I would like to look at the consequences that this scheme would have on our economy. I want to caution readers that the modern global economy, and specifically the American economy, is a little more complicated than these attrition through enforcement enthusiasts would have you believe.

The approximately 7-8 million undocumented workers are employed predominately in small to medium sized businesses, (which are exactly the business segments that will produce the new jobs that America will need to pull itself out of our current high unemployment recession). Governor Romney would have you believe that it is in the best interest of our economy to fire and "attrite" these workers, and give their jobs to unemployed citizens. Let me explain why this is an untenable economic plan.

The undocumented that still have jobs, are employed because they are among the most productive workers at their respective companies. During this deep recession, virtually all companies have cut back their workforce to their best and most productive workers, and by doing so, hope to weather the economic storm and survive. Again, at this point in time, almost all American companies are struggling to stay in business, and are employing the minimum amount of employees that will enable them to stay afloat. These remaining workers are experienced, productive, and have proven their worth. The self-deportation enthusiasts would have us fire good, experienced, and proven - albeit undocumented workers, and replace them with citizen trainees that cannot find jobs in their respective fields, and are theoretically willing to take jobs picking fruit, making hotel beds, or manufacturing products, until the economy expands, and they can get a better job.

Let's think about their plan for a moment, and honestly explore the impact that their plan would have on our economy. For starters, these replacement workers would have varying degrees of impact on the productivity of their new companies. Some workers might step right in, and seamlessly replace good and experienced workers immediately. However, this would be extremely unusual and rare. A few might be as good, or almost as good as the workers that they are replacing, but this will be the vast exception. Most of these new workers will be less productive than the experienced and good workers that they will be replacing, especially in their first year of training, while our business climate is still at its worst. In other words, to varying degrees, most of these workers cannot possibly be expected to replace experienced workers without some level of productivity drop-off.

What will the loss of productivity mean for these businesses, since we are already in a tough business climate, and these companies were already barely struggling to make a profit, or keep their losses to a minimum? Obviously, they will see a decline in revenue, and an increase in cost per unit. In the best of cases, these businesses, their owners, and their employees will contribute less tax revenue. In the worst of cases, these businesses will be forced to close. Make no mistake, at least some of these businesses will fail due to this attrition game-plan. Of that, we can be mathematically certain. I can think of no probable situation in which these businesses will produce higher profit. Therefore, the result of the attrition through enforcement plan will be lower tax revenues, continued and expanding unemployment, a longer and slower economic recovery, and less new employment from the small to medium size business segments, (who produce most of the new jobs in our economy).

Moreover, we will end up with twice as many people trained for old economy jobs, and fewer people trained for new economy jobs. This sounds counter productive to me. When our economy eventually does pick back up, (which will take considerably longer under this self-deportation plan), we will reward these small and medium sized businesses by leaving them in the lurch, because these replacement workers will leave for better jobs at the very first opportunity. Doesn't it make much more economic sense to keep the government's paws off of our remaining businesses, and instead have the government concentrate on stimulating new economic growth opportunities through programs such as job training for the unemployed, removing burdensome regulations, and lowering business tax rates? Certainly that is the true conservative perspective, and seperates conservatives from restrictionists on this issue. This is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Houston Partnership are advocating for a comprehensive immigration solution, and against the restrictionist agenda of self-deportation.

Finally, to circle back to the moral or human argument, what does the restrictionist "attrition" scheme really mean? It means that if were successfully able to withhold any means of employment from the millions of undocumented workers here in the United States, they would be faced with few if any viable choices. If they were to stay here, they would starve themselves and their families, and would be left homeless due to their inability to pay rent. They would wander around looking for work for as long as they could hold out, and then, faced with no prospects for survival here in the U.S., many of these good people would be forced to return, defeated, broke, angry, and with their tails between their legs back to their countries of origin, assuming that they could survive that difficult journey back, without any means to pay for it.

It's like condemning 20,000,000 hard-working and God-loving people to execution by a thousand small cuts. It is a slow and painful torture of humiliation, condemnation, the loss of dignity, hunger, helplessness, homelessness, desperation, and finally submission. Is this the America that we want? Is this the America that we have become? America is a better country then to demonstrate intolerance, immorality, and inhumanity. I, along with our Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition partners such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, would humbly urge these misguided self-deportation restrictionists to re-think their callous strategy, and to please show thoughtful leadership by supporting a comprehensive immigration policy that can solve our immigration crisis in a compassionate, conservative, and logical manner.

About The Author

Robert Gittelson is the Co-Founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. After studying Economics at the University of Southern California, Robert Gittelson spent almost 30 years as an Apparel Manufacturer and Importer. He built his business working shoulder to shoulder with immigrants, and has a thorough understanding of the value that the immigrant population brings to our economy, as well as to our society. A frequent speaker at symposiums and panel discussions across America on immigration, he is the author of over 50 published articles, essays, and journal articles on the subject of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.