During Thursday night’s Republican Debate in Houston, presidential candidate Donald Trump hinted that “self-deportation,” which many political observers believe ended Mitt Romney’s chances with Latino voters in 2012, could be a viable means to address immigration problems in the United States.
Trump’s comments came after Marco Rubio claimed that Trump was critical of Romney’s position in 2012, after the former Massachusetts governor lost to Barack Obama. At the time, Trump explained that Romney “had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal.” He also added that “self-deportation” led to Romney losing the Latino vote and the Asian vote.
“He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country,” Trump said in 2012.
At the Houston debate last night, Trump clarified his position:
But first of all self-deportation is people are going to leave as soon as they see others going out. If you look at Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, they started moving people out and the rest of them left.
Trump’s mention of Eisenhower referred to “Operation Wetback,” a federal program which led to the deportation of about one million people of Mexican descent.
The “self-deportation” moment was part of a larger immigration discussion among the GOP candidates. With Trump winning three of the first four Republican contests, both Rubio and Ted Cruz tried to positions themselves as more conservative than Trump on immigration:
Part of the exchange involved Trump addressing what former Mexican president Vicente Fox told Jorge Ramos:
Here is a transcript of part of the exchange:
BLITZER: Thank you very much. It’s now time to begin questions. Voters in the first four states have spoken, and Mr. Trump has emerged as the frontrunner, but in five days the candidates will face their biggest test yet, Super Tuesday. When nearly half of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination will be awarded, and the biggest prize of the night is Texas.
Immigration is a key issue in this state, for all voters nationwide, including the many people watching us on Telemundo. So, that’s where we begin.
Mr. Trump, you’ve called for a deportation force to remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States. You’ve also promised to let what you call, “the good ones”, come back in. Your words, “the good ones”, after they’ve been deported.
Senator Cruz would not allow them to come back in. He says that’s the biggest difference between the two of you. He calls your plan amnesty. Is it?
TRUMP: First of all, he was in charge of amnesty, he was the leader, and you can ask Marco because they’ve been debating this every debate that we’ve had.
As far as coming back in, number one, you wouldn’t even be talking, and you wouldn’t have asked that as the first question if it weren’t for me when my opening when I talked about illegals immigration. It wouldn’t even be a big subject.
But, we either have a country, or we don’t have a country. We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out. They will come back — some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally. They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a very quick process, but I think that’s very fair, and very fine.
They’re going to get in line with other people. The best of them will come back, but they’re going to come back through a process.
BLITZER: Senator Cruz, what’s wrong with letting what Mr. Trump calls, “the good ones” come back to the United States?
CRUZ: You know, the people that get forgotten in this debate over immigration are the hardworking men and women of this country — our millions of Americans who are losing their jobs. Millions of legal immigrants who are losing their jobs are seeing their wages driven down.
You know, in the past couple of weeks the Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article about the state of Arizona. Arizona put in very tough laws on illegal immigration, and the result was illegal immigrants fled the state, and what’s happened there — it was a very interesting article.
Some of the business owners complained that the wages they had to pay workers went up, and from their perspective that was a bad thing. But, what the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they’re spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars. And, the Americans, and for that matter, the legal immigrants who are in Arizona, are seeing unemployment drop are seeing wages rise. That’s who we need to be fighting for.
Listen, we have always welcomed legal immigrants, but I think it is a mistake to forgive those who break the law to allow them to become U.S. citizens, and that’s why I’ve led the fight against granting citizenship to those here illegally, and that’s why I will do the same thing as president.
TRUMP: Mr. Trump, do you want to respond to that? TRUMP: Well, I’m very glad that Ted mentioned Arizona because probably the toughest man on borders is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and two days ago he totally endorsed me, so, thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Rubio?
RUBIO: Senator Cruz has called your immigration plan amnesty, and has an add out there comparing it to President Obama’s. He says both of you support allowing undocumented immigrants legal status here in the United States after a background check, paying a fine, and paying taxes.
Are those claims correct?
RUBIO: Well, first of all, and before we do anything, I’ve been abundantly clear on this. When I’m president of the United States, before we do anything on immigration, we are going to secure the border. And, that’s not just the physical border with Mexico, it’s Visa overstays. That’s 45 percent of the problem right there.
RUBIO: It also has to do — that’s why we need e-verify, and entry-exit tracking system, and so-forth. And, until that happens, we’re not doing anything else. And then we’ll see what the American people are willing to support.
And Donald mentioned, because he mentioned me in his answer, that his position on immigration is what has driven this debate. Well, the truth is, though, that a lot of these positions that he’s now taking are new to him.
In 2011, he talked about the need for a pathway to citizenship. In 2012, Donald criticized Mitt Romney, saying that Mitt lost his election because of self-deportation.
And so even today, we saw a report in one of the newspapers that Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled.
My mom and dad — my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead.
So I think this is an important issue. And I think we are realizing increasingly that it’s an important issue for the country that has been debated for 30 years, but finally needs to be solved once and for all.
BLITZER: Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: Well, first of all, self-deportation is people are going to leave as soon as they see others going out. If you look at Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, they started moving people out and the rest of them left.
Self-deportation, as I really define it, and that’s the way I define it, is you’re going to get some to go, and the rest are going to go out.
As far as the people that I’ve hired in various parts of Florida during the absolute prime season, like Palm Beach and other locations, you could not get help. It’s the up season. People didn’t want to have part-time jobs. There were part-time jobs, very seasonal, 90-day jobs, 120-day jobs, and you couldn’t get.
Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.
RUBIO: That — my point that I made was you had criticized Mitt Romney for self-deportation. You said that his strategy of self- deportation is why he lost the election.
And I think people in Florida would be surprised, because, in fact, the article that was today, they interviewed a number of people that would have been willing to do those jobs, if you would have been willing to hire them to do it.
TRUMP: I criticized Mitt Romney for losing the election. He should have won that election. He had a failed president. He ran a terrible campaign. He was a terrible candidate. That’s what I criticize Mitt Romney — I mean, ran…
RUBIO: No, he…
TRUMP: Excuse me. He ran one terrible campaign. That’s an election that should have been won.
RUBIO: Well, in fact, I agree we should have won and I wished we would have, but, in fact, you did criticize him for using the term “self-deportation.” I mean, that’s on the record and people can look it up right now online.
But, again, I just want to reiterate, I think it’s really important, this point. I think it’s fine, it’s an important point that you raise and we discuss on immigration. This is a big issue for Texas, a huge issue for the country.
But I also think that if you’re going to claim that you’re the only one that lifted this into the campaign, that you acknowledge that, for example, you’re only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.
You hired some workers from Poland…
TRUMP: No, no, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.
RUBIO: In fact, some of the people…
TRUMP: And by the way, I’ve hired — and by the way, I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over at my job. You’ve hired nobody.
RUBIO: Yes, you’ve hired a thousand from another country…
TRUMP: You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards, et cetera. So don’t tell me about that.
RUBIO: Let me just say — let me finish the statement. This is important.
TRUMP: You haven’t hired one person, you liar.
RUBIO: He hired workers from Poland. And he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment from…
TRUMP: That’s wrong. That’s wrong. Totally wrong.
RUBIO: That’s a fact. People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling it right now. Look it up. “Trump Polish workers,” you’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did it.
RUBIO: That happened.
TRUMP: I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over my lifetime. Tens of thousands…
RUBIO: Many from other countries instead of hiring Americans.
TRUMP: Be quiet. Just be quiet.
TRUMP: Let me talk. I’ve hired tens of thousands of people. He brings up something from 30 years ago, it worked out very well. Everybody was happy.
RUBIO: You paid a million dollars.
TRUMP: And by the way, the laws were totally different. That was a whole different world.
BLITZER: Thank you.
TRUMP: But I’ve hired people. Nobody up here has hired anybody.
BLITZER: Senator Cruz, you say you want to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants, but you never want to allow them to come back to the United States. What would happen to the children who are U.S.- born citizens whose parent will be deported under your plan?
CRUZ: Well, existing law provides that those who are deported cannot come back here legally. U.S. citizens can come back. That’s existing law.
But let me say, Wolf, I really find it amazing that Donald believes that he is the one who discovered the issue of illegal immigration. I can tell you, when I ran for Senate here in the state of Texas, I ran promising to lead the fight against amnesty, promising to fight to build a wall. And in 2013, when I was fight against the “gang of eight” amnesty bill, where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
CRUZ: And indeed, if you look at the “gang of eight,” one individual on this stage broke his promise to the men and women who elected him and wrote the amnesty bill.
CRUZ: If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders.
And I think if you want to know who actually will secure the borders and follow through, you ought to ask who has a record before they were a candidate for president of fighting to secure the borders and stop amnesty. And I’m the only one on this stage that has that record. And by the way, Marco is exactly right that a federal court found Donald guilty of being part of a conspiracy to hire people illegally and entered a $1 million judgment against him.
BLITZER: Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: I can only say this, and I’ve said it loud and clear and I’ve said it for years. And many of these people are sitting right in the audience right now — your lobbyist and your special interest and your donors, because the audience is packed with them, and they’re packed with you.
I’ve had an amazing relationship with politicians — with politicians both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman. As one magazine said, he’s a world-class businessman; he was friendly with everybody. I got along with everybody.
You get along with nobody. You don’t have one Republican — you don’t have one Republican senator, and you work with them every day of your life, although you skipped a lot of time. These are minor details. But you don’t have one Republican senator backing you; not one. You don’t have the endorsement of one Republican senator and you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself.
BLITZER: Senator Cruz?
CRUZ: You know, I actually think Donald is right. He is promising if he’s elected he will go and cut deals in Washington. And he’s right. He has supported — he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be hiring illegal immigrants. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be funding Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi; wouldn’t be funding the Gang of Eight. And, you know, he is right. When you stand up to Washington, when you honor the promise you made to the men and women who elected you and say enough with the corruption, enough with the cronyism, let’s actually stand for the working men and women of this country, Washington doesn’t like it.
And Donald, if you want to be liked in Washington, that’s not a good attribute for a president.
TRUMP: Here’s a man — Robin Hood. This is Robin Hood over here. He talks about corruption. On his financial disclosure form, he didn’t even put that he’s borrowed money from Citibank and from Goldman Sachs, which is a total violation. He didn’t talk about the fact that he pays almost no interest. He just left it off, and now he’s going to protect the people from the big bad banks.
Give me a break.
BLITZER: All right. We’re going to move on to Governor Kasich.
CRUZ: Wolf, can I respond to that attack?
BLITZER: You can respond, but let me get Governor Kasich in. He’s been waiting patiently.
Governor Kasich, the idea — you’ve said this, and I want to quote you now: “The idea that we’re going to deport all these people is ludicrous and everybody knows it.” Those are your words. Should people be allowed to break the law just because it’s not feasible to stop them?
KASICH: Look, we have a great president here, George Bush, the 41st president of the United States. He worked with Ronald Reagan to pass an effort to try to solve this problem — a path to legalization. You see, that was a time when things worked. It was a time when President Reagan and George Bush decided that we needed to make the country work.
Look, I think there is an answer here. The answer is you complete the border. You let people know that once it’s done, you don’t have a right to come in. If you come in, we don’t want any excuse. You’re going to go back. But I favor a guest worker program. I think it’s practical. And I think for the 11 million or 11.5 million Americans — the illegals that are here, if they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, I’d make them pay a fine, some back taxes, maybe some community service. And at the end, I’d give them a path to legalization, but not a path to citizenship. I don’t think we’re going to tear families apart. I don’t think we’re going to ride around in people’s neighborhoods and grab people out of their homes. I don’t think — first of all, I don’t think it’s practical and I don’t think it reflects America.
You know what happened? The problem with President Reagan is we didn’t get in there and actually finish the border. And I think it was probably business interests that affected it. But at the end of the day, let’s be practical. Let’s start solving problems in this country instead of kicking them upstairs. With President Reagan and George Bush, it was a bipartisan coalition to address the issue, and I think we can and should do it again. And I will have a plan in the first 100 days to get it done and get this issue behind us.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
Dr. Carson, you’ve been critical of mass deportation. You said back in November you don’t think Mr. Trump’s plan necessarily represents the Republican Party. Given how well Mr. Trump has been doing with the Republican primary voters, do you still believe that?
CARSON: I believe in liberty and justice for all. I think everything that we do should be fair. And I’ve already described — you know, how we can secure the border.
We need to secure all the borders, because it’s not just people coming in from South America and Mexico, but there are terrorists who want to destroy us, who are getting across our borders fairly easily. And we have to stop that.
But in terms of the people who are here already, after we — after we stop the illegal immigration, we need to be reasonable. And I would give them a six-month period in which to get registered as a guest worker, assuming that they have an acceptable record.
They have to pay a back-tax penalty, have to pay taxes going forward, but they don’t have to live underground anymore. And I think they do not become American citizens, they do not vote.
If they want to become an American citizen, they go through exactly the same process that anybody else goes through. I think that’s the kind of situation that is actually fair to people.
And we have other ways of — of utilizing our facilities and our talents as foreign aid: doing things in South America and Central America and Mexico that improve the economy there, so that they don’t feel the need to come over here. That would cost us a lot less than borrowing money from China, paying interest on it.
BLITZER: Thank you, Dr. Carson.
Mr. Trump, your campaign, as you well remember, began with the idea of building a wall along the southern border.
BLITZER: It’s about 315 miles southwest of where we are right now. You’ve said the Mexican government will pay for it.
BLITZER: The spokesperson for the current president of Mexico says that will never happen. The last two presidents of Mexico say that will never happen. In fact, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox — he said today, and I’m quoting him — he said, “I’m not going to pay for that,” quote, “effing wall.”
So if you don’t get an actual check from the Mexican government for $8 billion or $10 billion or $12 billion, whatever it will cost, how are you going to make them pay for the wall?
TRUMP: I will, and the wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me.
It just got 10 feet taller. I saw him make that — I saw him make the statement. I saw him use the word that he used. I can only tell you, if I would have used even half of that word, it would have been national scandal.
This guy used a filthy, disgusting word on television, and he should be ashamed of himself, and he should apologize, OK? Number one. Number two, we have a trade deficit with Mexico of $58 billion a year. And that doesn’t include all the drugs that are pouring across and destroying our country.
We’re going to make them pay for that wall. Now, the wall is $10 billion to $12 billion, if I do it. If these guys do it, it’ll end up costing $200 billion.
But the wall is $10 billion to $12 billion. You need 1,000 — you need 1,000 miles. The Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago — 2,000, is 13,000 miles. We need 1,000, because we have a lot of natural barriers.
We can do it for $10 billion to $12 billion, and it’s a real wall. This is a wall that’s a heck of a lot higher than the ceiling you’re looking at. This is a wall that’s going to work.
Mexico will pay for it, because they are not doing us any favors. They could stop all of this illegal trade if they wanted to…
… immediately. Mexico will pay for the wall. It’s a small portion of the kind of money that we lose and the deficits that we have with Mexico.
BLITZER: If the — if the Mexicans don’t pay for the wall, will you start a trade war with Mexico?
TRUMP: Well, you know, I don’t mind trade wars when we’re losing $58 billion a year, you want to know the truth. We’re losing so much. (APPLAUSE)
We’re losing so much with Mexico and China — with China, we’re losing $500 billion a year. And then people say, “don’t we want to trade?” I don’t mind trading, but I don’t want to lose $500 billion. I don’t want to lose $58 billion.
Mexico just took Carrier Corporation, maker of air conditioners. They just took Ford. They’re building a $2.5 billion plant. They just took Nabisco out of Chicago.
And I always say I’m not having Oreos anymore, which is true, by the way. But they just took a big plant from Nabisco into Mexico. They’re taking our businesses. I don’t mind.
BLITZER: Thank you. Senator Rubio?
RUBIO: Yeah, a couple points. If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it. The second…
TRUMP: Such a cute sound bite.
RUBIO: But it — no, it’s not a sound bite. It’s a fact. Again, go online and Google it. Donald Trump, Polish workers. You’ll see it.
The second thing, about the trade war — I don’t understand, because your ties and the clothes you make is made in Mexico and in China. So you’re gonna be starting a trade war against your own ties and your own suits.
TRUMP: All right, you know what?
RUBIO: Why don’t you make them in America?
TRUMP: Because they devalue their currency — they devalue their currencies…
RUBIO: Well, then make them in America.
TRUMP: … that makes it — well, you don’t know a thing about business. You lose on everything…
RUBIO: Well, make them in America.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you — they de-value their currency. They de-value their currencies.
RUBIO: Well then, make them in America.
TRUMP: That makes it — well, you don’t know a thing about business. You lose on everything you do.
RUBIO: Well, make them in America.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, they de-value their currencies. China, Mexico, everybody. Japan with the cars. They de-value their currencies to such an extent that our businesses cannot compete with them, our workers lose their jobs…
RUBIO: And so you make them in China and in Russia.
TRUMP: But you wouldn’t know anything about it because you’re a lousy businessman.
RUBIO: Well, I don’t know anything about bankrupting four companies. You’ve bankrupted…