At Tuesday's CNN Debate focusing on national security, Newt Gingrich expressed a surprisingly humane stance on immigration:
"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 of a century," said Gingrich.
"And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in forcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so they are not separated by their families."
This puts the Newtster not only at odds with his fellow Republican presidential nominee hopefuls but his base as well. Could taking a moderate and nuanced stance like this be political suicide?
This is dangerous political territory for Gingrich, who spent months campaigning in virtual anonymity before surging — on the strength of sharp debate performances — into the top tier of the Republican race.
Dating to Bush’s presidency, Republicans have consistently blocked immigration reform legislation that even hints at providing a path to legal status or citizenship for people who have come to America illegally.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, nearly had his campaign collapse in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina for supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
In 2010, Senate Republicans filibustered legislation that would have granted legal status to about 500,000 people who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and had attended college or served in the military.
If anything, Republican sentiment on immigration policy has hardened since then.
Boy howdy, has it hardened. We've got Republicans interested in repealing the 14th Amendment. We've got a governor all but demanding anyone vaguely Hispanic-looking carry papers at all times to prove their right to be on this side of the border. We've got Republican candidates clamoring to build bigger and bigger barricades on our southern border (One fence! No, two fences! Wait, where's that moat?) and other representatives dissing Obama as weak on immigration despite deportations skyrocketing under his presidency. Interestingly, you never hear anyone mention getting tougher on companies that employ undocumented workers. Funny, that.
Still, Newt's semi-tacit endorsement of the DREAM Act flies in the face of Republican fear-mongering of the Other. However, let's be clear: Newt's idea of amnesty is not as humane as he would have you believe:
Missing from this discussion, though, is the fact that Gingrich is being given ”humanity” credit for carving out an exception so narrow that it only looks humane next to the most merciless of policies. He’s recommending legal status, not citizenship, for people who have been here for 25 years, who have children or grandchildren, who have paid taxes, and who have joined a church (sorry, atheists, Muslims, and Jews). I don’t think this was a play to the general election audience, I think Newt genuinely believed that even the hardest immigration hardass wouldn’t disagree with him.
[MSNBC contributer Karen] Finney correctly pointed out, though, that even Gingrich’s most recent remarks belie the notion that he’s some font of humane policy. “Remember, Newt Gingrich has plenty of other crazy that he talks about when he talks about things like, little children scrub toilets and telling people to go take a bath, Finey said. ”He is a little like a sociopath. On the one hand, he is talking about humanity and compassion, and he is saying little kids should go scrub toilets so they get work experience.”