Romney's Immigration Hypocrisy

As the United States is a country that achieved greatness and prosperity thanks to incessant waves of immigrants from the five continents over a period of 500 years, it is hard to understand the xenophobic rhetoric of some presidential candidates, particularly in the Republican field.

The denunciation of immigrants, especially from Mexico, has become one of the major campaign topics in the primaries, with each candidate willing to say whatever it takes to appear tougher than the rest on border security.

This widespread condemnation of immigrants is unfair and dishonest: Several economic studies have demonstrated that illegal immigrants—an estimated 12 million work without official permits in the U.S.—contribute far more to the U.S. economy than they take away from it. If those workers were forced to leave the country, as former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney demands, the U.S. would suffer an immense economic crisis.

Nevertheless, several Republican candidates (with the notable exception of John McCain) trumpet immigration reform that involves deporting all 12 million of those here illegally on the basis that, among other things, illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from Americans. Besides the fact that such a policy is logistically unfeasible, it is also inconsistent with unemployment data.

The U.S. has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world. The Department of Labor estimates that a mere five percent of the American population was without employment in December 2007. Contrary to what most Republicans would have you believe, Mexican workers and other migrants don’t really compete for jobs with the five percent of America that is unemployed. They generally take unskilled and underpaid positions that other local workers don’t want. Romney knows this, but he denies it in the interest of electoral victory.

In his quest to win conservative votes, Romney has lately toughened his tone against Mexican immigrants. His latest stance is that the border must be “secured” and that all migrants without work permits should be forced to leave the U.S. and apply for legal residency from their home countries.

To be sure, Romney’s inconsistency on tough issues is widely recognized: He was pro-choice and then pro-life; he supported gun control and then he rejected it; he backed same sex marriage and then he opposed it. Yet, on the issue of immigration, he has not only been inconsistent, but revealed himself to be a hypocrite—and not just because he hired migrants without work permits to mow his lawn.

The fact is that Romney’s great grandfather, Miles Park Romney, and numerous other Mormons who practiced polygamy, fled across the U.S. border to seek protection in Mexico in 1884. They went to Mexico to avoid the investigations into their marriage practices ordered by the U.S. Congress, according to reports by Associated Press.

Miles Park Romney, who had five wives, took his children with him, one of whom was Romney’s grandfather. He and his fellow Mormons crossed into Mexico where they managed to get protection. Miles Park stayed in the northern areas of Mexico for 28 years, until 1912. This is why Romney’s father was born in Chihuahua, Mexico.

“Harassed, hunted and persecuted because of their practice of plural marriage, a band of faithful Saints left the United States with mixed emotions on 5 March 1884 and crossed the border into Mexico, seeking refuge and the right to live their religion in peace,” recounts the Encyclopedia of Latter-Day Saint History with regard to the earlier Romney’s exodus, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Anna Amelia Pratt was born in the U.S. but also migrated to Mexico seeking protection because she was the granddaughter of Mormon apostle Parley Pratt, who had 12 wives and had also crossed the border seeking refuge. In Mexico she met Gaskell Romney, Mitt Romney’s grandfather. Their marriage took place in 1895 in Dublan, Mexico, and their children were born there.

Many of Mitt Romney’s relatives still live in the 5000-person, largely Mormon community of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua. “There are now 3 million Mormons in Mexico. Their missionaries are literally everywhere. There were also still some of the Hatch family at Colonia Juarez just a few years ago,” says religion writer John Hart, as quoted by Suzan Mazur.

In today’s Republican party, it is acceptable to make pernicious remarks against Hispanics in the name of border security. Outright racism is only thinly veiled. But it’s especially ironic that Mitt Romney, for the sake of political expediency, now attacks the immigration of citizens from the very same country that gave protection to his great-grandfather, grandfather and father and still hosts his cousins, nephews and nieces.

Raul Penaranda, a Bolivian journalist, is an International Nieman Fellow at Harvard.