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Romney's Suggestion for Handling Illegal Immigrants? 'Self-Deportation'

As the campaign trail for Republican presidential candidates has made its way to Florida, the very diverse and largest primary state thus far, the issue of immigration has found its way more frequently in the stump speeches of each candidate. During Monday's NBC/National Journal debate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a somewhat odd answer for solving the nation's illegal immigration problems: 'self-deportation.'

Romney's simple answer for dealing with over 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country drew audible rumbles from the crowd.

The answer came from a question by the Tampa Times' Adam Smith who asked that if Romney wants illegal immigrants to go back home and apply for citizenship, but doesn't "want to go rounding up people and deport them," how will he get them to leave?

“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," said Romney.

Romney went on to say that under his plan, people who have come to the United States illegally would be given a transition period to work here, but when that transition period is over they would no longer have "the documentation" to work here.

"At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home, and apply for legal residency in the United States," Romney said. "Get in line with everybody else."

Romney said his plan differs from the current situation because he would require employers to ask for a card to E-verify who is here legally.

"But I just don't think it's fair to the people who have loved ones waiting in line legally to come to America, and say 'guess what, we're going to encourage a wave of illegal immigration, again, by giving amnesty of some kind to those who came here illegally," said Romney.

Fellow candidate Rick Santorum agreed.  The former Pennsylvania senator said that since the recession has diminished so many job opportunities, illegal workers are leaving. “It’s happening now. People are going back now,” Santorum said.

The Hill notes that Romney could have made an additional misfire when speaking about English as an official language.

"Romney said that because schools in Massachusetts taught children in the language of their homes, 'At the end of their education experience they could 'no speak English' well.'

The remark, in which he seemed to adopt a slightly Hispanic accent, could be seen as mocking and may be a misfire in an otherwise carefully worded answer. It could be very dangerous for Romney in the general election."

All four candidates said that they would prefer making English the official national language. However, Texas Rep. Ron Paul specified in his answer that while he supports English on the federal level, he would not want a federal law that would prohibit a state like Florida from having city ballots or other ballots in another language besides English.

Continuing the immigration discussion during Monday night's debate, Speaker Gingrich said if president he would veto a version of the proposed DREAM Act that would allow a path to citizenship for children who come to the United States with their undocumented parents if they complete college, but would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship if they serve America in uniform. The Associated Press notes that Gingrich said college graduation alone is not enough.

Romney and Santorum said they would veto any version of the DREAM Act that gives citizenship for college graduates. As for those who serve in the military, Romney was in some agreement with Gingrich.

POLITICO notes that in Iowa last month, Romney had said he would veto the DREAM Act but liked parts that focused on military service, saying, ""I'm delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents of this country."

Immigration issues play a significant role in Florida politics due to the state's large Hispanic population.

NPR reports that a December survey of 500 Latino registered voters, conducted by impreMedia and the polling group Latino Decisions, showed that 46 percent of Hispanics believe Republicans "don't care too much" about them. Another 27 percent said Republicans "are being hostile."

Somos Republicans, the country's largest Hispanic Republican group, endorsed Speaker Gingrich last Monday.

Mediaite video of Romney's 'self-deportation' suggestion:

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