Last week, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his run for the presidency. If he wins the Republican primary, Gingrich will have to garner the votes of a sizable percentage of the Latino vote to make it all the way to the White House. It’s no coincidence that one of Gingrich’s first appearances as a presidential candidate was on one of the most popular Spanish-language programs, Unvision’s Al Punto.
Anchor Jorge Ramos grilled Gingrich on his immigration platform which will play a big role in how Latinos vote in 2012. While the immigration debate during the Republican primary leading up to the 2008 presidential election focused on which candidate could present himself as being the toughest on the issue, Gingrich clumsily staked out a middle ground, suggesting that it might be a good idea to set up local community panels that decide which immigrants get to stay and which don’t. Gingrich’s remarks were cut out of the final video clip on Univision’s website, but they were included in a transcript of the interview issued by the network:
RAMOS: Exactly what do you mean? What are you going to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country? You are not for immigration reform, I mean, you will not favor legalizing 11 million people in this country.
GINGRICH: I would favor finding steps that determine who is clearly going to remain in the United States and I think you got to start from that point
RAMOS: But how can we do it?
GINGRICH: First, somebody who’s been here 20 years, somebody who’s been here 20 years and is married and has three kids and has been paying taxes and lived a totally peaceful life and is a citizen – but by the way they came here 20 years ago outside the law. We got to find the way to routinize and get them in the law without necessarily getting them on a path to citizenship. Now there ought to be a way to do that. And one of the things I’m looking at, and this may come as a surprise to you, is in World War II we had a selective service board where every local community could apply common sense to the draft process.
We may want to think about a citizen board that can actually look at things and decide, is this a person that came in two months ago and doesn’t nearly have any ties here? Or is this a person who clearly is integrated into the society but unfortunately has been undocumented, therefore, we have to rethink how we are approaching them.
Gingrich didn’t get the chance to flesh out his vision of “citizen boards,” but it sounds like Gingrich is essentially proposing local communities take up individual citizenship applications on a case-by-case basis. It’s hard to imagine that such boards would be either a fair of efficient way to deal with the nation’s broken immigration system. Yet, as long as a comprehensive legislative solution remains taboo within the GOP, Republican candidates who are smart enough to recognize the importance of the Latino vote will have to think creatively about how to address one of the most pressing issues facing the Latino community.
Gingrich’s new stance differs from the proposal he extensively laid out on Al Punto in 2009. Back then, Gingrich suggested that the best way to deal with the undocumented population would be to convince 11 million undocumented immigrants to leave their families and jobs in the U.S., go back to their home countries for two to three years, in exchange for a temporary guest-worker visa.
And although Gingrich worried in the past that American civilization will “decay” unless the government declares English the nation’s official language, he is now starting to learn some Spanish himself. At the end of his interview, Gingrich announced his candidacy in Spanish and awkwardly asked Ramos, “Do I get an A? Do I get an A, B or C on that?” Ramos replied, “I guess, let’s wait for the voters to decide.”
Watch the interview (in Spanish):