Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, deserves considerable credit for being candid about the need for immigration reform in the United States, unlike some other leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
In particular, Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann have hurled at Mr. Gingrich the word “amnesty” – an inflammatory one in this context – during a debate on Tuesday, as if he had proposed a sweeping forgiveness of all illegal immigrants.
On the contrary, Mr. Gingrich has a nuanced, step-by-step program on immigration. He rejects any comprehensive immigration reform such as has been favoured by both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. He proposes a “pathway to legality” for illegal immigrants who have established “deep ties” in a community over a long period: something less than a pathway to citizenship, a notion that Mr. Romney himself formerly advanced. Mr. Romney appears to be suppressing his moderate inclinations.
Far from a blanket amnesty, Mr. Gingrich would grant substantial discretion to panels of citizens drawn from the communities where the illegal applicants live, to consider whether to grant them legal status as residents of the U.S. – he somewhat oddly likens this proposed process to wartime selective-service (that is, draft) boards.
Mr. Gingrich is showing remarkable courage in being forthright about opinions of his that are likely to be unpopular in the Iowa caucuses in the new year and most of the Republican primaries thereafter. But many Republicans are doing their party no good by, in effect, rejecting potential supporters among the large and growing Hispanic population of the U.S.
It is unhealthy for any country to have millions of people living in legal limbo. Mr. Gingrich is right not to play down his concern with this issue, and (if he wins his party’s nomination) not to wait until the general election to raise it. A fair settlement will be reached only if public opinion is won over. Mr. Gingrich is contributing toward that end by persisting in arguing for the regularization of the status of millions of otherwise law-abiding people.