By James Oliphant
One way to solve the nation’s immigration problem, Mitt Romney suggested Monday evening, is through “self-deportation.”
The presidential candidate was replying to a question during the second hour of the NBC/National Journal debate inTampa, Fla. It was the first of two debates in which the remaining four Republican candidates for president will have this week.
Romney was asked how he would reconcile his pledge that, as president, he wouldn't order mass deportations of undocumented immigrants with his promise to crack down on illegal immigration. His answer: “self-deportation.” If the nation’s immigration laws are enforced Romney said, undocumented workers will return to their home countries once employment opportunities dry up. "If people don't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work," he said.
Rick Santorum agreed. “It’s happening now. People are going back now,” he said.
The dialogue was part of a rapid-fire series of questions on issues involving immigration and Latinos. Both Romney andNewt Gingrich restated their opposition to the Democrats'Dream Act, which would put children of illegal immigrants on a path toward citizenship if they served in the military or finished college. Both candidates said they would support a version of the legislation that would provide some sort of reward for military service. Children of illegal immigrants, Gingrich said, “should have same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship they would have had back home.”
The candidates were also asked whether English should be the official language of the United States and whether they opposed ballots being printed in Spanish in states such as Florida with large Latino populations.
Gingrich and Romney defended campaigning in Spanish, as they have done in the state, while supporting English as the official national language. “I think campaigning, historically, you’ve always been willing to go to people on their terms in their culture,” Gingrich said. But, he said, “as a country, we have to unify ourselves in a future where there may be three or 400 languages” spoken.
“People need English to get great jobs,” Romney said. “We don’t want people limited in their capacity to reach the American dream because they don’t speak English.”
Ron Paul had a slightly different take, citing states' rights. He said he wouldn’t want the federal government to prevent a state such as Florida from printing ballots in Spanish.
“If Florida wanted to have some