Newt Gingrich told the truth about illegal 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 century," Gingrich, a staunch conservative and history buff, told the audience at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington. It was yet another GOP primary debate, but this time, Gingrich is leading the polls and not backing down from his long-held views on immigration. "And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families."
To be sure, Gingrich alone does not hold the key to solving the country's lingering immigration problem. Furthermore, his position on this complicated issue — including his advocacy of the red card solution by the Krieble Foundation — deserves careful study and scrutiny. But compared to the rest of the Republican presidential candidates who stuck to their tired talking points and mouthed indecipherable buzzwords (what, exactly, are "magnets of amnesty"?), Gingrich towered above the field, giving a compassionate rationale for immigration reform.
The former Speaker of the House and long-time Washington insider cited the contributions of immigrants to American society, invoking Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. He voiced his support for the federal DREAM Act, which would grant a path to legalization to young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors and seek to complete college and join the military. "I don't see any reason to punish somebody who came here at three years of age, but who wants to serve the United States of America," Gingrich said. He described the reality that many undocumented immigrants, all across the country, have been living in the U.S. for years, if not decades: paying taxes, building families and contributing to their communities. Indeed, undocumented immigrants are an inexorable part of our society. They are integrated in our lives — in our churches, in our schools. We are here. And we — and by "we," I mean American citizens and undocumented immigrants — must deal with the problem head-on and find a sensible solution.
In the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, all eyes will be on Gingrich, the frontrunner in national polls prior to last night's debate. Will Gingrich's view on immigration cost him his front-runner status? But I would argue that attention must also be paid elsewhere.
Agree with or not, Gingrich has offered a framework of solutions to our immigration problem. Can Gingrich's opponents, from former Gov. Mitt Romney to Rep. Michelle Bachmann, offer fair, pragmatic solutions instead of reiterating what immigration policies they are against?
If early reports by some of the country's leading news organizations are any indication, Gingrich's stance on immigration has now become his Achilles heel. His "humane" approach, judging by the initial coverage, is now a risk and a liability. Can the mainstream media shed as much light on the immigration issue — just how integrated are undocumented immigrants in our society, from our schools to our churches? how much taxes have undocumented immigrants paid in the past, say, 4 or 8 years? — as they will on the who's-up, who's-down horserace coverage of the candidates and their views on the issue?
President Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants — more than 1 million — than President Bush did in his two terms combined. Families have been separated under Obama's controversial Secure Communities program. What does President Obama think of Gingrich's call for a more "humane" approach in enforcing the law?
Can we, as a society, have a more honest and humane conversation about immigration?
Last week, Define American launched a Stories platform that is helping drive a more nuance and elevated conversation around immigration. It's not about "amnesty" or "magnets," not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It's about sharing individual stories to get to a more collective understanding of immigration and who we are as Americans. What's your (and your family's) immigration story? How do you define American? I urge Gingrich and the rest of the presidential candidates to share their stories. I urge you to share yours, too.
We cannot solve a problem until we tell the truth about it.
NOTE FROM DEFINE AMERICAN: Are you an avid media consumer who wants to be a part of a crowd-sourcing project that monitors how the media — from all platforms, national and local — is reporting on immigration? Do you want to join a small network of reporting fellows who will work with JOSE REPORTS in reporting on immigration? Are you a journalist seeking new ways to report on this issue? Email us at [email protected].