Last night's Presidential debate opens the door for someone (maybe someone from CNN, in Thursday's debate?) to pose a question I've long suggested for Mitt Romney: Why did you return to Marriott Corporation's board of directors in January 2009, knowing that the company is the very epitome of the "illegal immigration" problem? And what, if anything, did you propose there to change things?
Romney, both in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, has made immigration a central piece of his campaign -- hammering opponents for being too soft on treatment of undocumented aliens. In this latest debate, Romney was asked quite directly about one of the central problems of his immigration policy, which is how to get the undocumented millions out of the country. He has made perfectly clear that they can't be allowed to stay; he has conceded (in this cycle) that as a practical matter the United States can't round up and deport them all; and he has made clear that they can't be granted any sort of valid status to remain. So, what would he do?
His response was not entirely new, but since he usually avoids actually saying it, the words were striking: “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."
This fits with what Romney has been suggesting for a long time: that the answer to the illegal-immigrant problem is to crack down on employers. Unfortunately, he has been extremely vague, at best, on how he intends to do this as a matter of policy. For example: would there be penalties for employers found to be employing undocumented immigrants?
[Update: At yesterday's Univision forum, Romney said he would "severely sanction employers that hire people who have no legal documentation and legal authorization to work here.]
Which brings us back to Marriott. The Marriott Corporation is one of the country's largest employers of immigrants in the US; I have seen estimates that half of its US hotel employees were born outside the country. The company's Chairman/CEO, Bill Marriott, is a very vocal advocate of immigration reform -- specifically, reform that would grant amnesty for the immigrants who are already in this country. Marriott has also spoken very plainly and publicly about the fact that he has no idea how many of Marriott's thousands of employees might be in this country illegally -- he has argued that the ease of forging documents makes it impossible for his company to do anything about it.
Clearly, Romney disagrees with that final assertion. His entire immigration policy -- which, again, he has showcased prominently as a high priority issue -- is premised on the assumption that employers can indeed accurately screen out current and potential employees. Presumably, given Romney's other rhetoric, in a way that would not impose a strangling regulatory burden on those companies.
Romney and Marriott are of course very close friends. Willard Mitt Romney is named after John Willard Marriott. Marriott and his family have been longstanding massive donors and fundraisers for Romney.
Romney served on the Marriott board of directors from 1993 until 2002. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that his attitude about illegal aliens may have been different then. But he returned to the board in January 2009, and served on the board until January 2011, when he resigned to begin his Presidential campaign. Romney's recent financial disclosure shows that he received $113,880 last year in director fees from Marriott International.
That's not blind-trust investments, that's active, compensated corporate governance Romney was doing, for one of the leading employers of, and advocates for, illegal immigrants.
It's also worth noting that Marriott also offers a range of benefits that candidate Romney would probably categorize as "magnets" for illegal aliens: English tutoring and other educational opportunities, for example.
So here's another way to phrase the question for Governor Romney: What would you, as President, do to stop you, as Marriott director, from enticing and employing thousands of illegal immigrants?
And a follow-up: Presented with the rules, suggestions, or potential penalties just outlined by President Romney, what would you do, as Marriott director, to maximize shareholder value?