'Self-Deportation' Really Is a Joke

This article is from the archive of our partner .

If Mitt Romney's proposed "self-deportation" for illegals seems like some kind of political joke taken too far, that's because it kind of is. In fact, the phrase comes from a couple of comedians who coined it while protesting a California immigration measure in 1994, and The New York Times Lede blog proposed on Wednesday that they introduced it into the political lexicon for the first time. 

Lalo Alcaraz and Esteban Zul started a mock campaign in favor of California's Proposition 187, which would deny illegal immigrants use of schools and hospitals. They created a "militant self-deportationist" character named Daniel D. Portado, who proposed self-deportation centers for immigrants to leave the country, with Alcaraz playing the fake Portado in a real interview on Telemundo. Not long after they introduced the phrase as a joke, California Gov. Pete Wilson was using it in earnest. Alcaraz, through a Daniel D. Portado Twitter stream, has been loudly taking credit for coining "self-deportation." The Lede tried to run that claim down, and it looks like he may be right:

It is hard to say for sure if that is true, but the first news release using the term was distributed on Sep. 16, 1994; according to the Nexis database, the first printed record of Mr. Wilson using it was in a conversation with The New York Times Op-Ed columnist William Safire that took place in mid-November of that year. Asked about the goal of Proposition 187 (which was approved by voters that year, only to be overturned by the courts later), Mr. Wilson told Mr. Safire: “If it’s clear to you that you cannot be employed, and that you and your family are ineligible for services, you will self-deport.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.