Newt Gingrich is today getting vilified on many conservative blogs for his moderate stance on illegal immigration in last night's CNN/Heritage Foundation debate.
He stated the following:
"If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period," Gingrich said. "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."
Challenged by Michele Bachmann -- "I don't agree that you would make 11 million workers legal, because that, in effect, is amnesty" -- Gingrich stuck to his guns. "I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them."
I have, for several years, argued for this exact strategy in dealing with illegal immigration, on this blog and elsewhere.
Let us accept a couple truths, which Gingrich reiterated last night. One, we have a border problem with illegal immigration. Two, there is no majority sentiment in this country to return illegal aliens that have lived he for decades, raised their families, and have otherwise lived within the bounds of the law.
Accepting those facts, Gingrich's stance makes the most sense. Yes, there is a hint of amnesty; but I think the counter to that argument is that this is not full amnesty.
Why? This is what I would propose, and I think Gingrich would basically accept:
1. Secure the border.
Use a wall, use border troops, use virtual defenses. Whatever it takes, but it must be secured to avoid a repeat of the Reagan-era failure on immigration reform.
2. Find a path to legal residence for illegal aliens.
This is where Gingrich and myself depart from prior amnesty proposals. All illegal aliens should accept they committed a crime by coming to this country.
By accepting this as a crime, they have two choices. One, allow them to gain some sort of legal status, that allows them to become naturalized residents. However, by this path, they would be prevented from ever applying for citizenship, as their punishment for coming here illegally.
The second path would ask them to return to their home country, and then apply for a green card like all law abiding persons. Via this second path, they could then apply for citizenship in due course.
This would therefore NOT be amnesty, but a punishment system by which we legalize these persons, while at the same time punishing them by never allowing them become citizens because of their crime.
Gingrich is basically correct on this proposal. There is no other logical way forward, and the sooner conservatives accept that, the better. Deportation is a nonstarter for event the most extreme of conservatives. Michelle Bachmann attacked Gingrich on immigration, but provided no alternative. Romney attacked Gingrich, although he basically supported similar plans back in 2007.
Gingrich is now clearly shifting to a general election platform, much like Romney. This is a smart move on his part. Conservatives can decry his stance as 'amnesty', but such talk is naive and misses the point. Ultimately, you have to deal with illegal immigrants in some way short of deportation, because deportation will never happen. Gingrich is simply accepting the reality, and presenting the best plan available considering those facts.
This was cross-posted on Neoavatara.