The economy was once again the primary theme in tonight’s debate, but one undecided voter asked the candidates about their views on immigration reform:
What do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?
Romney spoke first. He rightly pointed out that the president promised comprehensive immigration reform and has failed to deliver. He then said that he believed in streamlining legal immigration; strengthening the border; adopting an electronic employment verification system; and offering a way for children brought into the US illegally to obtain permanent resident status.
Obama responded by noting that Romney not only has promised to veto the very legislation that would give those kids a chance to stay here, the DREAM Act, but has hired the architect of the controversial Arizona immigration law as a campaign advisor.
While the two candidates both offered similar responses to the original question, Romney’s rebuttal is perhaps most revealing. Here  is his quote:
Now let me mention one other thing, and that is, self-deportation says let it -- let people make their own choice. What I was saying is, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented, illegals, and take them out of the nation. Instead, let -- make -- people make their own choice. 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 was scattered and on-edge tonight, and on this question, he seemed to have reverted back to severely conservative, primary-era Mitt. He actually used the deplorable term “illegals” in describing human beings and once again advocated for making life so difficult for those people that they choose opportunity elsewhere.
Obama and Romney both agree that targeting and deporting criminals is essential. So when Romney talks about self-deportation, he is referring to those undocumented workers who haven’t committed crimes since they have arrived. They work. They pay taxes. And they have chosen to build their lives and raise their families here. But if Romney were president, he would make their daily lives so unbearable that they have no choice but to leave. How’s that for compassionate conservatism, Christian charity?
(Related: Bishops welcome immigration change )