In Tuesday’s presidential debate, GOP candidate Newt Gingrich made a potential misstep when he called for “humane” immigration reform. The stance, which some claim is a form of amnesty, is attracting significant ire from the Republican rank-and-file. Gingrich’s proposal masquerades as a moderate position but in reality is a misguided attempt at reform that would undermine the economic potential of America’s undocumented immigrant population.
At the debate, Gingrich said he was “prepared to take the heat for saying ‘let’s be humane’ in enforcing the law.” The key concern seems to be for the plight of families in the immigration debate. Gingrich stated that he wishes to create a system of legality for those undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for more than 25 years and are established in the community. When Gingrich, the perpetual strategist, declared, “I don’t see how the [Republican] party that says it’s the party of the family [advocates for an immigration policy that destroys families],” he received a stoic reaction from the audience.
The controversial statement is being compared to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s famous assertion that if people didn’t support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants to attend college, they “[didn’t] have a heart.” Perry’s refusal to abandon this position coupled with his “oops” moment a few weeks ago are cited as the key reasons for his precipitous fall from grace. Perry, once the front-runner, is now polling in the single digits.
Gingrich’s opponents have derided his call for compassion, so similar to Perry’s, by latching onto the polarizing rhetoric that often accompanies immigration. Representative Michele Bachmann said that Gingrich’s plan “equates to amnesty,” and Gov. Mitt Romney similarly labeled it “a new doorway to amnesty.” Though certainly different from the norm, Gingrich’s plan is hardly the sweeping measure of fundamental reform that it purports to be.
The Gingrich path to immigration reform has been rightfully criticized for advocating a “red card solution.” This position, so-named by the conservative Krieble Foundation, allows some immigrants to enter the country temporarily to work without the rights or privileges of citizens. The red card solution creates a dangerous “limbo” status for undocumented foreigners. Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, affirmed that “it virtually guarantees that we create second-class status for workers and their families — lawful but with no real rights,” according to The Washington Post.
Perhaps most disturbing is the flippant manner in which Gingrich proposes “earned” citizenship for young immigrants. Outside of military service, there is no way listed for undocumented teenagers — many of whom had no choice in illegally entering America in the first place — to obtain citizenship. College education, apparently, is not a significant enough way to contribute to society.
Gingrich is not alone in his myopic view of the role young immigrants play in the social and economic construct of the American system. The Republican Party seems set on a disturbingly hypocritical immigration stance as it relates to students. Many GOP candidates simultaneously avow increased visa access for high-skilled immigrants from overseas but refuse to educate the immigrants within America’s own borders.
This convoluted sense of justice ensures that immigrants will never be able to become high-skilled taxpayers by locking them in perpetual illegality. The distinction is infuriating for young immigrants who are immutably left with the choices their parents made. The military is an admirable choice, but it is not the path for everyone. Try as they might, these motivated teenagers are being prevented by political posturing from bettering themselves through education.
Perry may have been blasted for granting in-state tuition to immigrants, but his economic foresight is sound. An educated workforce composed of immigrants has historically proven itself as the best investment America can make. Immigrants comprise a growing force that represents everything positive about the American dream.
Somewhere along the way, Gingrich and his Republican peers have lost the true meaning of that dream and of American exceptionalism. Though the image of America as a “melting pot” may be trite, it is accurate. Politicians do a great disservice to the American people by marginalizing immigrants in these troubled economic times. If we continue to denigrate our youngest generation of immigrants as a worthless drain on society, we risk losing their economic potential — and that’s not a gamble worth making.
Katsounas is a government and finance sophomore.