Newt Gingrich introduced a unique concept into the Republican primary debate—an attempt at a quasi-rational approach to fixing our broken immigration system. While Newt has received mostly derisive comments from the Right, focused almost exclusively on calling his idea an “amnesty” plan, the reality of his plan is very different. It is NOT an amnesty plan. But more importantly for those who understand the urgent need, Newt’s plan will NOT fix our broken immigration system.
Start with the obvious, there must be willing participants in Congress to work with any president to solve a problem of this magnitude. As Newt himself has pointed out, both President Bush and President Obama have tried a “comprehensive” approach to immigration reform, and failed miserably. In today’s Congress, with a large contingent of elected representatives who view any law that in any way assists an immigrant as “amnesty,” Newt’s plan is dead on arrival. A recent “piecemeal” bill that passed the Republican controlled House, is held up in the Senate by one Republican Senator! This unfortunate anti-immigrant attitude persists despite recent (and long standing) polls showing large majorities of voters from both political parties favoring an immigration reform plan that allows for earned legalization.
Newt’s ten point plan is long on the big picture but short on solving the biggest problems of all – securing our future with the right types and mix of immigrants and what to do with all the people in the US without legal papers.
Newt’s plan starts where all immigration reform plans must start—on the border. But Newt fails to recognize the fact that the borders are far more secure today than they have ever been, and that they are getting more secure each day. In 2011, the Border Patrol recorded the lowest number of people detained at the southern border since 1974 when Nixon was President, and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more people than ever before. In fact, President Obama can lay claim to being the “Deportation President” because he will have deported more people in his four year term office than any President in modern times. Fences, patrols, UAVs and electronics will not keep everyone out. A rational, legal way into the United States is what really stops illegal immigration at the border.
Newt speaks of our needs for a “21st Century Visa Program,” as if it is something out of Six Sigma lecture, eliminating “inefficiencies” in order to attract the best and the brightest to come to and remain in America. Here is the sad news, even in our current broken system we are attracting the best people, the problem is that we are quickly losing them when they realize that our legal immigration system (the so-called “line”) has waits of up to 15 years for workers to get permanent residence through employment, and wait times exceeding 25 years for family immigration. The answer is simple, and yet is ignored by Newt -- increase the numbers of legal immigrants that come to the US in legal categories to meet not only demand, but our needs.
And yet, the biggest flaw in Newt’s plan is not his proposed guest worker program run by American Express (really), but rather his “path to legality” for “millions” of people who are in the United States without legal status. Newt proposes that only people here 20-25 years could apply for his program. Bad news Newt—President Reagan’s “amnesty” program was 25 years ago, the numbers affected by your original proposal would be only a very small portion of those that are unlawfully present. A more rational approach would be 10 years, which would cover more than 63% of all illegal immigrants. Newt also proposes the idea that local “immigration boards” would meet regularly to determine whether an immigrant could stay in the US. Can you imagine thousands of these boards around the country and the extraordinary inconsistency of their rulings? It would be like, well, the draft boards from the 1960s that Newt compared them to, where certain people got favors because of who they knew or who their family was, while others were sent to the front lines in Vietnam.
The bottom line is this—Kudos to Newt for having the courage to buck the current (although only recent) Republican orthodoxy of “attrition through enforcement,” favored by the anti-immigration lobbyists on Capitol Hill. But Newt needs to be honest with people. His plan has zero chance of passing Congress, does not effectively deal with our future need for immigrants, does not address a real resolution to a temporary worker program, and certainly does not deal with a majority of the 11 million people in the United States without lawful status. Newt’s plan is getting us no closer to solving this real national problem than the failed policies of President Obama.