Watch this video of a primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and it’s clear how unrestrained the current Republican field is in its immigrant bashing. Mitt Romney abandoned his support of immigration reform and now opposes equal education for immigrant children. Herman Cain proposeselectrifying the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. And Rick Perryboasts of receiving an endorsement from a sheriff who recently said it was an honor to have his views on immigration compared to those of the KKK. Within this environment, we may be tempted to see Gingrich as a moderate. However, his statement of the obvious—that the United States cannot and will not deport all undocumented immigrants—was a cold political calculation meant to highlight Romney’s flip-flop and to disguise his own regressive views.
[Read Ken Walsh’s Washington: Gingrich Faces Backlash From the Right on Immigration.]
Simply put, Gingrich supports the Arizonification of America. He has embraced the very “attrition strategy” codified into the core of Arizona’s unconstitutional SB 1070. The idea behind this strategy is to make life sufficiently miserable for immigrants that they leave voluntarily. It doesn’t distinguish between lawful and undocumented immigrants, and it privileges the short-term political goal of immigrant-bashing over economic recovery, public safety, and civil rights. And it has a more fundamental flaw. To succeed, the attrition strategy would mean making life miserable for all Americans.
And like the rest of his Republican rivals, Gingrich would deny political equality to 11 million Americans in Waiting by blocking their path to citizenship. He proposes the formation of local “citizens’ review” boards to determine which immigrants can remain in second-class status, evoking ominous historical parallels. When 11 million people have been effectively dehumanized, simply using the word “humane” to describe them becomes controversial.
[Read U.S. News’s Debate Club: Should the United States build a fence on its southern border?]
The United States is going through a shameful chapter in its unfolding history as the world’s first and only nation of immigrants. This isn’t the first time newcomers have been scapegoated, nor is it the first time communities of color have been punished by prevailing political sentiment. From the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” to the criminalization of African-Americans over centuries, the American story is replete with examples where people were made “illegal” by unjust laws and careless demagogues. But the country’s proudest and enduring history is always written by people who earned their emancipation. People once deemed “illegal” are often the country’s greatest protagonists.
Gingrich is wrong on immigration, and the 11 million Americans in Waiting are right. Those who stick it out and overcome the mis Gingrich proposes will eventually earn their citizenship to the benefit of us all.