Mitt Romney Camp's "Abbott & Costello Routine" on Immigration

| by Reason Foundation

By Peter Suderman

After listening to a Mitt Romney campaign spokesperson bash Newt Gingrich for supporting a 1986 immigration amnesty in last night’s post-debate spin room, The Examiner’s Philip Klein asked what exactly the former Massachusetts governor had in mind for the millions of undocumented immigrants already inside U.S. borders. Klein ended up in what he describes as an “Abbott and Costello” routine:

I followed up by asking Fehrnstrom whether Romney believed in deporting those immigrants who are already here illegally.

“He doesn’t believe in granting them amnesty,” Fehrnstrom responded.

That started a back and forth exchange worthy of Abbott and Costello, as Fehrnstrom kept continuing to drive the "no amnesty" point home, and I tried to get more details.

I followed up again, asking what "no amnesty" would mean for the people already here.

“Well, first, you have to get turn off the magnets to get them to stop coming.”
Again, I asked about those already here.

“He would not grant them amnesty," Fehrnstrom said.
"But what would he do with them?" I asked.

He reiterated, "He would not grant them amnesty."

I asked again, "But what would he do?"

“I just told you, he’s not going to grant them amnesty," he said.

Again, I said, “That’s not an answer, that’s telling me what he won’t do. What would he do?

“He would not grant them amnesty," he repeated.

Finally, after I asked the question for a seventh time, Fehrnstrom responded by emphasizing employer enforcement as a way to get illegal immigrants to leave through attrition.

“Well, if you cut off their employment, if they can’t get work, if they can’t get benefits like in state tuition, they will leave," he said.

I asked if that would take care of all of the illegal immigrants, and he said, “Enough of them would leave that it wouldn’t be as big of a problem as it is today.”

Just to be clear, I wanted to know about those that still could remain under such a scenario.

“I just answered your question Phil, and you keep hectoring me about it," he snapped. "You turn off the magnets, no in state tuition, no benefits of any kind, no employment. You put in place an employment verification system with penalties for employers that hire illegals, that will shut off access to the job market, and they will self retreat. They will go to their native countries.”

Here’s something Fehrnstrom fails to note: In 2005, Romney spoke kindly of a Bush era plan to provide undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. The next year, he changed his tune, denouncing the same plan as “amnesty.” Which we now know quite clearly Romney would not support.