Romney on Immigration: ‘The Answer is Self-Deportation,’ ‘Transition Period’ to Work Here

By Penny Starr | January 24, 2012 | 11:23 AM EST

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gesture during a Republican presidential debate Monday Jan. 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

( – Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney says the way to deal with the estimated 12-14 million illegal aliens living and working in the United States is “self-deportation” and giving them a “transition period” for employment.

In response to a question at Monday’s night’s GOP debate in Tampa, Fla., Romney was asked about his earlier comments that he would not round up people and send them back to their home countries.

“So if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?” Romney was asked.

“Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide 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,” Romney said.

“And so we’re not going to round people up as we have in this society; that is to say, look, people who come here illegally, under my plan, (will) be given a transition period and the opportunity during the transition period to work here,” Romney said. “But when that transition period is over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country.”

Romney said after the “transition period,” people would decide “whether to remain or return home” before applying for legal residency.

Both Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed partial support for the Dream Act -- a Democrat-sponsored bill that would allow people under the age of 33 a pathway to citizenship if they were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and if they complete college.

Gingrich said he would tie military service to citizenship: “If you live in a foreign country and you are prepared to join the U.S. military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risks for the United States,” Newt said -- adding that existing policy already allows that. “That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.”

Romney agreed: “I just note, that’s the same position that I have, and that is why I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.” Romney said.

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