The Republican national security debate devoted significant time to immigration issues.
Ron Paul sounded his familiar theme of cutting off education for the children of undocumented immigrants. Herman Cain endorsed unleashing state police on undocumented immigrants.
Wolf Blitzer reminded Newt Gingrich that he voted for the Reagan Amnesty in 1986. Gingrich said he supported legalizing many undocumented immigrants, but without a pathway to citizenship. He also expressed sympathy for DREAM Act relief for young people who serve in the US military saying they should be eligible for citizenship.
Gingrich had an involved exchange with Bachmann who claimed he wanted to give an amnesty for 11 million undocumented. Gingrich said that Americans would not want to deport undocumented immigrants who had lived in the country for many years.
When Romney advocated a merciless policy of deportation, Gingrich said that he could not see how a party devoted to family values could break up families. Gingrich added that he was “willing to take the heat” for this position.
Gingrich was applauded three times for taking an approach that risks nativist backlash in the GOP.
Interestingly, Gingrich personalized the immigration issue by depicting many undocumented immigrants as hardworking churchgoers with extensive community and family ties. Romney claimed that Gingrich’s portrait of an undocumented immigrant was unrealistic.
Post debate, Gingrich was confronted by conservatives who accused him of favoring amnesty. Gingrich responded that the Republicans have hurt themselves with Latinos because of their tough policy. He said that”no reasonable person” could believe that millions of people who have been here for years can all be deported.
While Gingrich’s proposal is being called an amnesty, in fact it offers substantially less than either the Reagan amnesty or the more restricted Kennedy-McCain proposal. Gingrich’s so-called Red Card would only be available for immigrants who have substantial ties to the U.S. And it would not allow those receiving the cards more than the ability to live and work here.