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Commentary: Fantasy Christmas gift: Self-deporting immigrants

  • Story Highlights
  • Illegal immigrants, facing new law cracking down on employers, are going home
  • Law an attempt to lessen the economic incentive for illegal immigrants
  • Navarrette: Choice to leave Arizona is personal, not driven by policy
  • No one knows for sure what is going on in Arizona, Navarrette says
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- For Christmas, nearly a dozen readers sent me the same gift, an article about goings on in the Southwest: "Illegal immigrants packing up and leaving Arizona."


Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Here's a policy: If people are in the country illegally, they should be deported.

According to the article, illegal immigrants are fleeing the Grand Canyon State because of an "oppressive environment" and the fear that the undocumented won't be able to find work after this week, when a tough employer-sanctions law takes effect. It's a restrictionist dream come true. Many of those who say they've had a bellyful of illegal immigration claim that, if we dried up the jobs, illegal immigrants would simply "self-deport."

I've written that this is the stupidest idea I've ever heard, which explains why readers couldn't wait to forward an article that would seem to prove me wrong.

As someone who is paid to express opinions on a daily -- sometimes hourly -- basis, I don't mind being wrong.

Still, I don't think I'm wrong about this. No one knows for sure what's going on in Arizona. Every Christmas, many illegal immigrants head home to reacquaint themselves with mama's cooking and play Santa Claus by showering relatives with gifts. As the article acknowledges, this tradition could account for some of the exodus. So could the slowing economy, and the fact that -- according to the article -- many people are migrating to other states. Adios Arizona; Hola Colorado, Nebraska, or Minnesota.

It's wishful thinking to think that the solution to our immigration woes is to simply expect the condemned to carry out their own executions. It's more complicated.

On a recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona, I spoke to a couple of illegal immigrants who told me that, indeed, some of their friends were leaving the state but others were staying. If you're young and single, you might try your luck elsewhere, they said. But those who have families and roots would stay put no matter what, they said. Besides, what do they have to go home to -- earning $6 a day in some Mexican town, assuming there is even a job to be had there?

Maybe some illegal immigrants are leaving Arizona for Mexico. If so, I'm glad to hear it. But that's a personal prerogative. Let's not mistake it for public policy.

Here's a policy: If people are in the country illegally, they should be deported. I wrote that several months ago when I applauded the removal of Elvira Arrellano, an illegal immigrant who taunted U.S. authorities before being deported to Mexico. The forcible removal of those who break immigration laws is the right of any sovereign nation, and it's a job that shouldn't be outsourced.

For the record, I'm glad that Arizona is bearing down on employers. It's nice to see government pick on someone its own size for a change. Besides, I can't wait to see what happens when Arizonans realize that the same folks who built all those resorts, restaurants, and houses are no longer around to maintain them.

Of course, there is always the chance that Americans -- especially those in their teens and 20s -- will step in and fill the void by leaving their air-conditioned homes, video games, and $3 coffees and going to work in 110-degree weather.

But whom are we kidding? That's just more wishful thinking.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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