Here in Alabama, we’ve learned a lot about the concept of self-deportation in the four months since the state’s tough new anti-immigrant law, known as HB56, went into effect. As state Rep. Micky Hammon, a Decatur Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors has said, the law is designed to make life tough for illegal immigrants “so they will deport themselves.” Recently, the concept was introduced to a wider audience during a Republican presidential debate on Monday, Jan. 23, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed the concept as part of his immigration plan.
“Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide that 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. And so we’re not going to round people up,” Romney said.
Romney’s comments prompted mockery from another candidate, Newt Gingrich, who called the idea that people would self-deport an “Obama-level fantasy.”
Last weekend, an episode of the syndicated radio show “This American Life” explored the concept of self deportation at length. Host Ira Glass introduced the segment on Alabama’s immigration law this way:
“For a long time there’s been two camps when it comes to this issue,” he said, referring to immigration reform. “There’s the zero tolerance people who wants to round ‘em all up and kick ‘em all out, and then there are the people who want leniency—a pathway to citizenship. But now, there is this third way, there is this new movement that’s popped up in states like Arizona and Alabama. It’s formally called attrition through enforcement, but casually, proponents use a phrase that you may have heard: self-deportation.
“The idea is to make life so difficult, so unpleasant for illegal immigrants that they choose to go home. They self deport,” Glass said.
Reporter Jack Hitt contributed the 35-minute segment, “Alien Experiment,” to the show.
“The new law is designed to work like this: Turn almost every encounter between a regular person and a government official into a checkpoint, and the illegals will leave on their own accord,” Hitt said.
Hitt scored interviews with many of the major players surrounding HB56, including state Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican from Lineville, who initially voted for the law but now wishes to change it. Dial cited damage the law had done to Alabama’s reputation, and worried that other states would use Alabama’s immigration law to Alabama’s detriment when it comes to landing new businesses for the state:
“If we’re teetering out there — it’s us and another [state] and everything is pretty even, we’re probably going to lose those people,” Dial said on “This American Life”. “We won’t know about it. It won’t be a big red flag.”
“That’s probably the most detrimental part of the whole bill,” he said.
The story also includes interviews with Tuscaloosa police chief Steven Anderson, who said immigration was not a priority — “maybe not in my top 20 of concerns” — for his department before the law was passed, and with state Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), who sponsored the law in the state Senate.
In the section of the piece featuring Beason, Hitt mentions a startling statistic: He says about 75,000 people have fled the state since HB56 went into effect.
[Note: Weld could not find evidence supporting that statistic, but searches did turn up references to an estimate, from the Pew Hispanic Center, that there are (or were) between 75,000 and 160,000 illegal immigrants in Alabama. Weld contacted "This American Life" about that statistic via Twitter, and TAL indicated they would put the question to Hitt. TAL had not followed up at press time. The full quote regarding the 75,000 figure is transcribed at the end of this article.]
Beason claims in the interview that a recent drop in unemployment in Alabama is attributable to HB56, but Hitt contested that claim. “Other than Beason and his strongest supporters, I could not find anyone else who attributed the drop in unemployment to the law,” Hitt said.
Hitt also interviewed Montgomery Rep. Joe Hubbard, a Democrat, who said the immigration issue is a reflection of a shift in Alabama Republican campaign politics from a focus on local issues to national issues, and Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State for Kansas. Kobach drafted Alabama’s immigration law and similar laws for other states.
Listen to the HB56 episode of “This American Life” by clicking here or by using the widget below.
Weld has contacted “This American Life” on Twitter regarding the 75,000 figure, and the radio show has indicated they are asking Jack Hitt for clarification. Below is the exact statement regarding the 75,000 figure from the “This American Life” episode:
“Sen. Scott Beason is a Republican leader in the state legislature, and he was the primary sponsor of the bill last year. As far as he’s concerned, the law is working spectacularly well. In just three months, it’s prompted massive self-deportation. Roughly 75,000 people. And, Beason says, this has opened up jobs for American citizens, just like lawmakers hoped it would.”