Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has shifted his views on the hot button issue of immigration reform over the years, including once voting for full amnesty.
The politician’s long history on the subject bears noting as he in recent weeks presented a loosely defined “humane” policy plan toward illegal immigrants.
During a CNN debate two weeks ago, Gingrich called for a “humane” immigration policy that would grant legality for an untold number of illegal immigrants, something that sounds a lot like amnesty to conservative critics.
Although legality, not full citizenship, would be given to those who meet stringent requirements, the plan is not clear when it comes to exactly what rights, such as voting, these individuals would secure.
Gingrich’s “21st Century Contract with America,” posted on the candidate’s website, dictates that only those who can sustain themselves without government assistance and pay for their own private health insurance would be eligible to stay in the country with legal status.
The plan calls for an independent, local “citizen’s review” board that would grant legal status based on the financial independence requirements and the immigrant’s standing in his or her community. Each individual permitted to stay would be subject to a $5,000 penalty.
While Gingrich’s plan seems focused on those who have been in the country for a long time, the politician has yet to give any exact timetable for the residency requirements.
One new estimate recently placed at 3.5 million the number of illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for 15 years or more.
The former House speaker, meanwhile, has taken a strong stand on the issue of border security. His most recent plan calls for full control of the border by Jan. 1, 2014.
All government resources necessary would be made available for this, including “round-the-clock drone flights” and “multi-layer, strategic fencing in urban areas,” Gingrich says.
From amnesty to Bush critic
Gingrich has been grappling with the immigration debate since his early political years.
In 1986, he voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill, which granted one-time amnesty for all people residing illegally in the United States. The bill also called for full control of the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a 2008 Human Events interview, Gingrich defended his vote for the bill, stating he believed at the time there were only 300,000 illegals in the country in 1986. Later estimates placed the number at closer to 3 million.
“All of us who were conservatives who voted for the bill were told that if we had a one-time amnesty, which they said would have been 300,000 people, that we would then set up an employee verification system, and we’d control the border,” he said.
Continued Gingrich: “Now it turned out the amnesty wasn’t 300,000 – it was 3 million. They were only off by a factor of 10, and it turned out they weren’t going to control the border. And then it turned out they weren’t going to have an employer verification system. So other than lying to us on all three counts, it’s a terrific bill.”
In September 1996, as House speaker, Gingrich helped to water down a strong bill denying rights to illegals that some members of the GOP wanted to pass.
The Republican lawmakers backed nationalizing California Proposition 187, which passed by 59 percent and aimed to deny public education, social services and non-emergency health care to illegal immigrants and their children.
Gingrich, however, agreed to remove that amendment from an illegal-immigration bill. His action came after repeated vows he would not consider the bill unless the amendment was included to strike down benefits for illegals.
In February 2005, Gingrich, speaking as a private citizen, attacked Bush for not being a strong enough defender of the border and halting illegal immigration.
Speaking on the closing day of the 32nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Gingrich demanded Bush completely seal off the border along Mexico and Canada, deport illegal aliens within 72 hours of their arrest and exclude U.S. courts from reviewing such deportations.
“Let’s be serious about sealing off our borders or [else] have open borders,” Gingrich said.
“It’s a complete misreading of the 14th Amendment” to the Constitution to think that illegal aliens are entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens, he said.
During an April 2006 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Gingrich moderated his tune again, this time sympathizing with illegal aliens participating in protests while placing the blame for the illegal immigration problem on businesses and the federal government.
“I do not blame someone who leaves poverty to seek prosperity,” Gingrich said. “They showed up here to work under a social contract and then [the government] tried to change the terms.
“We need to quit lying about who is hiring illegals –it’s Americans,” said Gingrich, who at the time was openly flirting with a 2008 presidential run.
Gingrich at the time was hawking his own immigration reform plan, “Ending the Dishonesty: The Way Forward on Border Control and Patriotic Immigration,” which called for first gaining control of America’s borders followed by a worker-visa program.
With research by Brenda J. Elliott