When asked to clearly define what Romney meant when he endorsed a policy of "self-deportation" during Tuesday night's debate, Mitt Romney evaded the question and and pivoted to a hard-right condemnation of President Obama's record. Romney also managed to use the term "illegal" 12 times through the discussion.
President Obama, while addressing what each candidate would do for immigrants without green card, but who were currently living in the U.S. as "productive members of society," attacked his opponent's plan of self-deportation for "making life so miserable on folks that they’ll leave."
Romney countered by recasting his idea of self-deportation as an opportunity for undocumented immigrants—or as he referred to them, "illegals"—to "make their own choice" on whether or not to leave the country.
"And if they— if they find that— that they can’t get the benefits here that they want and they can’t find the job they want, then they’ll make a decision to go a place where— where they have better opportunities," Romney said.
Romney attempted to clarify the distinction by saying he was not in favor of "rounding up people" and "taking them out of this country"—one area where Obama has been a hawk. The Department of Homeland Security boasts record-breaking deportation numbers, having removed almost 400,000 immigrants in 2011 alone, with 188,000 deportees having been convicted of crimes.
“What I’ve also said is, if we’re going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families, and that’s what we’ve done,” Obama said during the debate.
Obama went on to slam Romney for embracing Arizona's controversial "papers please" immigration law, which enabled law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of people suspected of being undocumented. Romney fired back that he only supported the E-Verify portion of the law—which requires employers to check new employees' immigration status against the federal E-Verify database—as the "model of the nation." But as Obama noted in the exchange, Romney’s top immigration adviser is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the brainchild of the controversial Arizona immigration law.