The mainstream news media is filled with awe that Newt Gingrich showed some “compassion” for illegal aliens in the recent GOP presidential debate. A look at his record while in Congress shows this is nothing new.
In fact, Gingrich’s leadership in Congress is one of the reasons we have so many illegal aliens today who have been able to stay in this country for 25 years.
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That’s the supreme irony of Gingrich’s pro-amnesty remarks in last week’s debate. The man who helped ensure that illegal aliens from the 1980s and 1990s are still here in 2011 asked voters last night to consider the inhumanity of making illegal aliens leave this country after they have sunk such long roots here.
If, while Speaker of the House in the 1990s, Gingrich had shown any leadership in stopping illegal immigration, there would be very few illegal aliens still here from the 1980s and 1990s because they wouldn’t have been able to hold payroll jobs.
Nobody pushed him last night to take a pro-amnesty stand. He volunteered it! By focusing on long-term illegal aliens, he took a big risk that the media spotlight (or at least the internet and talk radio spotlight) would shine on his long-term record with those illegal aliens.
What the spotlight will find is that Gingrich worked with Big Business lobbyists to make sure that employers could continue to hire illegal workers, and thus sink roots that would be used by pro-amnesty politicians to justify legalizing them today.
We hear the same arguments from the National Council of La Raza, from the ACLU, from the National Immigration Forum — all of them cite the lack of past enforcement (which they impeded at every turn) as having allowed illegal aliens to sink such long roots that it would be unjust to make them go home now.
Gingrich reaffirmed his support for some legalizations several times last night. Here is his first comment:
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.
He went on to indicate that he would give them permanent legal residency and permanent work permits, but not U.S. citizenship. He and his supporters in the media say it isn’t amnesty if the illegal aliens don’t get citizenship. I suppose that is supposed to make the unemployed American who is left without a job feel better.
Illegal immigration would not be a topic in presidential debates if Speaker Gingrich in 1996 had taken different immigration positions. The political stars were in alignment in 1995-96 when the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (appointed by the Senate and the House, and chaired by Barbara Jordan) issued its recommendations to protect vulnerable American workers. The immigration subcommittees of both House and Senate quickly presented legislation to carry out the recommendations to cut legal immigration in half and to stop illegal immigration, primarily by removing the jobs magnet.
As Speaker of the House, Gingrich was in the pivotal position to help Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith push through the 1996 comprehensive bill that set up the verification program that eventually was named “E-Verify.”
The Commission had found that illegal immigration was booming in the 10 years since the 1986 blanket amnesty because illegal aliens had found it was still easy to obtain and keep U.S. jobs.
What did Speaker Gingrich do?
Those of us involved in that fight know that we were constantly and desperately seeking support from Gingrich which didn’t come.
Instead, Gingrich tried to kill the new job verification system entirely. Fortunately, the killer amendment he supported failed. No thanks to Gingrich, we have an E-Verify system today.
But the E-Verify system is entirely VOLUNTARY today because of another House vote which Gingrich won. That vote was to make sure that the verification system would NOT be MANDATORY for employers.
The nation’s Big Business lobbies deemed it essential that employers maintain the ability to cheat the paper verification system and hire illegal workers. Speaker Gingrich saw to it that the ability continued.
I am heartsick every time I think of that lost opportunity in 1996. If Speaker Gingrich had thrown his considerable talents and power behind the bi-partisan recommendations and supported Lamar Smith, most of the illegal aliens who arrived since then would not have bothered. And most of the illegal aliens who arrived before 1996 — with less than 10 years of roots in this country — would have gone back home.
Illegal immigration would not be topic of the 2012 Presidential debates.
And we would not be in a nationwide fight right now to support Rep. Lamar Smith once again (this time as chair of the Judiciary Committee) in yet another attempt to pass a mandatory verification bill (H.R. 2885). Nor would we see states across the country passing their own immigration enforcement laws.
Gingrich appeared to taunt Primary voters with the idea that they would lack compassion if they didn’t agree with giving some kind of legalization to long-term illegal aliens. It was a bold move on his part, given than he is well aware that Texas Gov. Rick Perry plummeted in the polls after a debate comment that people have no compassion if they don’t agree with in-state tuition for young illegal aliens.
Perhaps Gingrich will retreat under attack and note that he was talking about a tiny sliver of the population. After all, how many illegal aliens with families have been here 25 years or more? Not many. Does this mean he wouldn’t give his legalization to illegal aliens who have been here 24 years? Or 15 year? Where’s the cut-off?
I hope Gingrich does retreat. But his reference to a Krieble Foundation proposal suggests that he is thinking about far more than just 25-year illegal aliens. As Gingrich said:
The Krieble Foundation has a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a pass to citizenship. And so there’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone.
Krieble has been peddling this idea for years. You may remember conservative darling Rep. Mike Pence from Indiana who a few years ago proposed a type of amnesty that knocked him off his pedestal. That proposal came from Krieble.
Basically, Krieble believes the country has huge labor shortage issues and that the reason we have so many illegal aliens is that we don’t provide enough legal ways for foreign workers to get here.
Krieble would allow most illegal aliens to get work visas with various rules, but not citizenship. Here’s the promotional page for the red cards.
Michelle Bachmann in the debate kept calling Gingrich’s proposal an amnesty for most of the 11 million illegal aliens. Gingrich kept protesting that he wasn’t talking about everybody. But his reference to Krieble raises big doubts.
The CNN moderator pressed Mitt Romney more than once to acknowledge that Gingrich was right to show compassion to his narrowly defined group of church-going illegal aliens.
Romney maintained a consistency he has shown through all the debates of rejecting any talk of amnesty now. Romney said:
Look, amnesty is a magnet. What when we have had in the past, programs that have said that if people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that’s going to only encourage more people to come here illegally.
Pressed further if he was saying that Gingrich’s compassion is really about amnesty, Romney responded:
There’s no question. But to say that we’re going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing. People respond to incentives. And if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so.
But wouldn’t you let the family-loving, church-going illegal aliens who have been here 25 years stay, Romney was asked again. He answered:
I’m not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who gets to go. The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.
Romney went on to say that it was inappropriate in a debate to be sending signals to illegal aliens that certain of them should be rewarded for breaking the law.
Nonetheless, Romney and all the rest of the candidates failed to make the point that the reason illegal immigration must be reversed is to protect American workers and taxpayers.
That void led to a bunch of careless comments by Romney, Santorum and Gingrich about the country’s need for highly-skilled immigrants — indicating that they haven’t looked at the unemployment rates for under-30 college grads, or that they don’t care.
And that leads to the worst part of Gingrich’s attempt to distinguish himself from the other candidates last night. He has rarely acknowledged that immigration policy has any effect on American workers.
To be fair, Gingrich has a mixed record on illegal immigration (despite the terrible blot on his E-Verify record described above). Dr. James Edwards, who wrote a book on the 1996 legislative battle, agrees with my assessment of Gingrich on matters of workplace verification. However, Edwards says that in the Conference Committee where Gingrich was wrestling with the White House, he stood his ground and kept the Clinton Administration from stripping out a number of non-workplace-related enforcement measures against illegal immigration.
In fact, Gingrich earlier this year came out in support of mandatory E-Verify. We have changed the rating NumbersUSA gives him on E-Verify from “Abysmal” to “Excellent.”
But if Gingrich is going to use some Krieble-type legalization to give most current illegal aliens work permits — and if he is going to greatly expand guestworker programs for even more foreign workers — mandatory E-Verify would not end up protecting many jobs for Americans.
During the 1990s on immigration issues, Gingrich represented the interests of the national Republican Establishment. That Establishment was fully behind the Bush amnesty attempts in 2006 and 2007. And that Republican Establishment is advising Republican congressional leaders and candidates today to stay away from anything that would look like the bi-partisan immigration legislation of 1996 that would make immigration policy serve the needs and interests of Americans — especially the most vulnerable of Americans.
Gingrich’s salvo last week looks like an appeal for the Republican Establishment’s support with hopes that the grassroots won’t punish him.
For another view, see this column by John Zmirak.