Gingrich Plan on Immigration a Good Starting Point

In a bold move that enraged folks on both the right and the left, Newt Gingrich recently proposed “a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try to rip their family apart.”

Rest easy. As Gingrich has since attempted to make clear to groups of conservative voters, he would create such a path only after accomplishing a half dozen other objectives on the immigration front. On that menu, you’ll find plenty red meat for the Republican base: withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that prohibit local police from enforcing immigration law; building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border with Mexico; making English the official language of the country;  requiring from immigrants an understanding of American history and how it relates to U.S. citizenship; and speeding up deportations of illegal immigrants who haven’t been in the country long enough to qualify for leniency.

Nevertheless, Gingrich said, it’s time for Americans to have “an honest conversation about what we are going to do about the people who are already here.” Most of those folks should be deported, he insisted. But there would be an exception for longtime residents with families and deep roots in the community. Workers would get “red cards” to identify them as having the right to work legally in the United States, but they wouldn’t get U.S. citizenship as part of the deal.

I like what Gingrich has in mind, and I consider it a step in the right direction. It’s certainly a big improvement over what’s happening now, with Congress afraid to even broach the subject and President Obama having deported more people in a three-year period than any president since Dwight Eisenhower.

But when I said this to a friend, who is also a Democratic strategist, he didn’t buy it. In fact, he forced me to back up my assessment. Not feeling at all generous toward Gingrich, he asked: “Specifically, how is this a step in the right direction?”

That got me thinking. Let me count the ways. I would argue that Gingrich’s proposal is a positive step because:

1) It starts a discussion that is long overdue, about what the United States should do with more than 10 million illegal immigrants who are already living here;

2) It forces Republicans who disagree with this approach to come up with alternative ideas that go beyond sound bites about how we need more “boots on the ground”;

3) It forces Democrats to confront the fact that President Obama doesn’t have a plan and that his administration is dividing the very families that Gingrich wants to keep together;