A rational GOP stand on immigration

November 29, 2011


Finally, there is a voice of reason on immigration among the front-runners for the Republican nomination, who until last week’s debate seemed to be competing with one another to see who could take the craziest stand against Hispanic immigrants.

Newt Gingrich, the front-runner of the moment as conservative Republicans seek an alternative for ideologically zigzagging second-place contender Mitt Romney, broke with the pack in the Nov. 22 CNN debate of Republican hopefuls by stating an obvious: It is realistically impossible, economically risky and ethically wrong to seek the deportation of all 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

Gingrich said that ultimately, the United States will have to find a system where, after securing the border with Mexico and launching a guest worker program to fill jobs that Americans won’t take, “you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.”

“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,” Gingrich said.

For people who have been in this country for 25 years, Gingrich offered a “red card” program that would allow them to stay in this country, but not to get citizenship. Others who arrived more recently would be deported, he said.

In addition, Gingrich said, foreigners with graduate degrees in much-needed disciplines would get automatic residency. “I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here,” he said.

Predictably, other Republican hopefuls, trying to position themselves to the right of Gingrich, demanded an all-out deportation of all undocumented immigrants.

Asked by debate moderator Wolf Blitzer where he stands on this, Romney claimed that Gingrich’s red card proposal — a less generous variation of the immigration reform with a path to citizenship plan once supported by former Republican candidate Sen. John McCain in the 2008 elections — is the equivalent of an “amnesty.”

“Look, amnesty is a magnet,” Romney said. “What 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.”

Romney said that “we’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally.”

He added, “We welcome legal immigration. This is a party, this is a party that loves legal immigration. But we have to stop illegal immigration for all the reasons the questioner raised, which is, it is bringing in people who in some cases can be terrorists, in other cases they become burdens on our society.”

Offered a chance for rebuttal, Gingrich said, “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century.”

My opinion: Much of the immigration debate has been dominated by Hispanic-allergic anti-immigration zealots on Fox News and conservative radio talk shows, who get big ratings by bashing Mexican immigrants, and drive Republican presidential hopefuls to echo the same fear-mongering rhetoric.

They rarely mention the fact that the number of undocumented migrants has been declining steadily since the 2008 U.S. economic crisis. Or that the Obama administration — which supports a much more reasonable immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship to long-time lawful immigrants — has deported a record of nearly 400,000 people this year.

Romney’s argument that he is for “legal immigration” is misleading: There is currently virtually no path to “legal immigration.”

A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that it can take up to 70 years for a highly skilled Indian national to receive a U.S. green card. And for many unskilled Mexican workers, the process is so cumbersome and restricted that it virtually invites them to enter the United States through the back door.

What’s needed is updating immigration laws to make them economically advantageous and socially practical. Gingrich’s proposal, while limited in scope, at least brings some rationality to the debate among Republican hopefuls.

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. His email is aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com


jayhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

The concern I have is this, if we followed the advise given in the column and gave people who had been here 25 years a "red card" and deported more recent arrivals, would we really follow through with those deportations. Would Mr. Oppenheimer and advocacy groups like La Raza agree with such a position? Or would they accept the "red card" status for some and then fight like heck to prevent the deportations?
We had a one time only amnesty a generation ago. Would this proposal turn into another one time only amnesty, to be followed by another one time only amnesty in another generation?

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

Be legal or be gone. Whether you are from Iceland or Mexico makes no difference.

Linda and Bill Houghton 6 years, 5 months ago

We wouldn't have nearly as many people coming illegally across our border with Mexico if there was some reasonable way to get citizenship.. These people need to have a job now, not ten years from now or seventy years from now.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

The question of what our immigration policies should be is up to us as a nation.

As such, we should think carefully about them, and structure them so that they're in our own best interests.

That may or may not align with the interests of those wishing to come here and get a job immediately.

Linda and Bill Houghton 6 years, 5 months ago

We need these people here to do the jobs our current citizens will not do. Our immigration policies appear to be an attempt to keep this country a white Anglo-Saxon protestant nation, which isn't working very well anyway.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

Maybe, maybe not.

That's certainly something that should be considered, and whether or not it's what we want immigration policies to do.

I don't agree with your conclusion - as you note, that ship sailed a long time ago.

My main point is that our policies shouldn't be structured around the desires of people in other countries who want to come here - they should be structured around our own interests, after careful discussion and debate.

FlimFlamMan 6 years, 5 months ago

Mexican people who enter the country illegally should be given no special consideration. Should criminals who escape from jail and get a job be allowed amnesty?

Linda and Bill Houghton 6 years, 5 months ago

Most of these people would enter the country legally if given the opportunity. We have made it extremely difficult to nearly impossible for them to enter legally. If we allowed them to come legally there would be no need for amnesty or "red card".

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Sorry, but you'll never convince me that cold-blooded murder is a solution to anything.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

No matter how hard we try, we can't wall ourselves off from the rest of the world. The only real solution is a comprehensive one which includes addressing the reasons why people are willing to risk their lives to come here for crappy jobs-- and the blowback from NAFTA that destroyed the system of peasant agriculture in Mexico is part of that.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

NAFTA was a big mistake.

But, interestingly, it happened due to the desire to not "wall ourselves off from the rest of the world".

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, in a very euphemistic way. These are not "free trade" agreements. They are "free capital" agreements--meaning they're good for large corporations looking for the cheapest labor and fewest environmental and other regulations as possible, and everyone else gets the shaft.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

That's what happens when we don't "wall ourselves off".

I'd be happier if we simply focused on our own problems, and came up with some solutions, even if they meant slowing down or reversing this whole "globalization" thing.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

I remember GW Bush and R Reagan bring up this topic. While Reagan managed a limited 'amnesty' back in the 1980's, nothing much has happened since. This is not a new Republican idea, just like most of the health care bill.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Sorry: should be "bringing up this topic." Sheesh..........need more coffee.........

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

While living in California, a frequent occurrence was passing a hardware store or paint store and seeing several dozen illegal immigrants waiting around, looking for work. They are waiting to paint a fence, install a toilet, do some drywalling. They are hired by small independent contractors (mostly not licensed) and also by individuals wanting day jobs done. For the most part, they are paid cash. These types of things happen all the time, throughout the state, thousands of times over. These are jobs Americans are very much willing to do, though perhaps not at the wages the illegal immigrants are willing to work for. Compare that with the frequently portrayed picture of illegal immigrants working in a hot field, picking fruit and vegetables. These people are working for low wages in intolerable conditions and they truly are jobs Americans are not willing to do, again, at least not at the wages the illegal immigrants are willing to work for. The portrayal of the noble illegal immigrant working at jobs Americans are not willing to do is partially true. But it is partially untrue. While our groceries are cheaper, those in the building trades are finding less work.
Then there is the issue of the illegal immigrants working in the thousands of Mom and Pop small businesses. And the illegal immigrants who are not working at all; children, seniors, stay at home parents, etc. It's a complicated enough issue that reducing it to "illegal immigrants taking jobs Americans won't do" sends a message that has so much misinformation as to be misleading.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Good point. Anyone who has a simple answer is 'simple.' Perhaps the employers should be hammered as they know exactly what they are doing, but I doubt the 'living wage' will ever make it to the celery fields in California or Texas. I suspect the average teenager, even at $15/hour and benefits, wouldn't last long in the fields. Might be worth a try if we all agreed that food costs might skyrocket. Could be a sneaky back door solution to the rising number of fatties we will all be paying for soon.

Armstrong 6 years, 5 months ago

What a great idea, steal Obama's base. Go Newt '12

weeslicket 6 years, 5 months ago

interesting commentary. still, i think i am swayed by agnostic and made.in.china*

*apologies for using dots instead of dashes. it's just easier. i know how sensitive i am to a poster calling someone else "out of their name".

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Dots, dashes, makes no difference....Should be interesting to watch this play out. If the guy from Tyson (for example) knew he faced jail time in a real cell things might change. As long as the employers can get away with hiring illegal workers, they will. If they can find legal workers good luck and chicken will cost $4 a pound.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

It's easy to turn the CEO of a large corporation like Tyson into the boogeyman, but as I mentioned, there are tens of thousands of boogeymen. Unlicensed contractors (handymen), mom and pop restaurants, those are the things that happen in much greater numbers but they fly under the radar. Tyson-like busts make the news, they make great headlines, but they're not the big problem. It's all part of a larger underground economy, much like a cash tip a waitperson might make. Surely we can't throw them all in jail. Let me give you an example. I hired an individual in California. He worked for me for several years. When he left, he let me in on a little secret. He told me he had lied about being here legally. He gave me a false name and fake papers. I never knew. Nice guy, whatever his name was. And just as an aside, he was from Ireland and this was long before we an e-verify (or e-anything, for that matter). Maybe things are different now. But I doubt it.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Good point, and that was just an example. You can't blame the execs, actually. They are just trying to make money and if they can get away with it, why shouldn't they? We all like cheap food and even if they get fined now and again, that's just part of doing 'biddness.' Not really picking on the Tyson guy.

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