In a bold move that enraged folks on both the right and the left, Newt Gingrich recently proposed “a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try to rip their family apart.”
Rest easy. As Gingrich has since attempted to make clear to groups of conservative voters, he would create such a path only after accomplishing a half dozen other objectives on the immigration front. On that menu, you’ll find plenty red meat for the Republican base: withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that prohibit local police from enforcing immigration law; building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border with Mexico; making English the official language of the country; requiring from immigrants an understanding of American history and how it relates to U.S. citizenship; and speeding up deportations of illegal immigrants who haven’t been in the country long enough to qualify for leniency.
Nevertheless, Gingrich said, it’s time for Americans to have “an honest conversation about what we are going to do about the people who are already here.” Most of those folks should be deported, he insisted. But there would be an exception for longtime residents with families and deep roots in the community. Workers would get “red cards” to identify them as having the right to work legally in the United States, but they wouldn’t get U.S. citizenship as part of the deal.
I like what Gingrich has in mind, and I consider it a step in the right direction. It’s certainly a big improvement over what’s happening now, with Congress afraid to even broach the subject and President Obama having deported more people in a three-year period than any president since Dwight Eisenhower.
But when I said this to a friend, who is also a Democratic strategist, he didn’t buy it. In fact, he forced me to back up my assessment. Not feeling at all generous toward Gingrich, he asked: “Specifically, how is this a step in the right direction?”
That got me thinking. Let me count the ways. I would argue that Gingrich’s proposal is a positive step because:
1) It starts a discussion that is long overdue, about what the United States should do with more than 10 million illegal immigrants who are already living here;
2) It forces Republicans who disagree with this approach to come up with alternative ideas that go beyond sound bites about how we need more “boots on the ground”;
3) It forces Democrats to confront the fact that President Obama doesn’t have a plan and that his administration is dividing the very families that Gingrich wants to keep together;
4) It makes a healthy distinction between an illegal immigrant who arrived here 20 years ago, and has been contributing to the economy and society ever since, and one who got here 20 days ago and hasn’t contributed anything.
5) It puts a conservative face on the cause of immigration reform since, whatever you think of Newt, he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a bleeding heart liberal;
6) It separates “citizenship” for illegal immigrants (which will never happen) from giving them work permits so they can stay in the United States (which just might);
7) It will keep many immigrant families together, which stands in stark contrast to what is happening under the cruel policies of the Obama administration;
8) It advances a genuine idea and a practical solution to a stubborn problem instead of settling for another dose of cynical politics and heated rhetoric;
9) It would give at least some undocumented workers a chance at legalization, which means they wouldn’t have to worry about being hunted or harassed by local cops impersonating border patrol agents; and
10) It might even help convince Latinos to take another look at supporting a Republican for president, which would break the stranglehold that the Democratic Party has on that group and that would help both the political parties and Latinos.
What Newt Gingrich proposes by way of dealing with illegal immigrants isn’t perfect. But it’s a good starting point. Any of his opponents who sees fault in this approach is free to step up with a better idea to address the problem.
So far, though, that hasn’t happened. For the most part, all we’re hearing is criticism. It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. And it’s not worth listening to.No tags for this post.