Gingrich’s Immigration Stance: Heart or Calculated Gambit?


Newt Gingrich speaking at CPAC 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Newt Gingrich’s comments on immigration during Tuesday’s CNN debate sparked a maelstrom. He suggested that some immigrant families, including those with members who are in the country without papers, should not be broken up.

“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 which have been here a quarter-century,” he reasoned.

He qualified, however, that he was only referring to immigrants who have been in the country for decades, not those who recently came and are in the country illegally.

“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.”

Saying that he was prepared to take the heat for his words, Gingrich continued. “Let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but finding a way to give them legality so as not to separate them from their families.”

Is the former House Speaker showing Rick Perry that he has a heart? Or is it a calculated risk to differentiate himself from the pack and position himself as the smart moderate who can win a general election?

My bet’s on the latter. After all, his support for immigrants who have been here for a long time and have played by the rules is aligned with the sentiments of most Americans. A majority do think immigration is a good thing and support a path to citizenship for most unauthorized immigrants.

Gingrich long ago acknowledged the rising importance of the Latino vote in the U.S. In 2009 he launched a bilingual conservative news website for Latinos called “The Americano.”

But his stance on other immigration issues does not deviate much from other Republican candidates. He is big on national security and wants a fence built around the borders, employers to check the immigration status of all hires, and everyone to speak American English. I highly doubt that he would support lesbian and gay immigrant families.

So as Mitt Romney flip-flops on immigration further to the right and Rick Perry tries his darnedest to prove that he is indeed tough on unauthorized immigrants, Gingrich is now portraying himself as the one with the solutions and the heart.

And unlike Romney, he appeals more to the social conservative base. He is a repentant and “real” Christian.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.