While Newt Gingrich’s plea for a humane immigration policy was criticized by his fellow presidential candidates Tuesday night, conservative Hispanic leaders said the former speaker’s plea is a sensible one that should be embraced by more Republicans.
Gingrich expressed his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for 25 years or more during the CNN debate.
“If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period,” he argued. “If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
Though candidates on stage vocally disagreed with him, Gingrich maintained, “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. 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."
Hispanic leaders have welcomed Gingrich’s statements.
“House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s response last night left me motivated and thoroughly impressed,” said the Rev. Efrain Pineda Jr., executive director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership, in an email to The Christian Post.
Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, said of Gingrich’s statements, “I think it’s fairly sensible” to consider ties to the community and family members.
Pineda stressed that the Latino community is one that is oriented around family and faith. As such, Lopez believes all the GOP candidates should consider adopting a humane approach that fosters intact families.
“Finding a way that people can pay tough but fair penalties without making a tough situation worse is sensible,” Lopez said.
A 2010 study by The Pew Research Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that 41 percent of Hispanics support a path to citizenship. A slightly greater number of Hispanics, 45 percent, support an approach that embraces border security as well as creating a pathway to citizenship.
“What the Latino community wants is exactly what was mentioned by the speaker last night which is a comprehensive immigration reform, a law that will secure the borders yet help the millions of Latinos in America come out of the shadows,” Pineda summed.
To do that, Lopez said that Hispanic voters are willing to accept tough but fair solutions.
“People are willing to recognize that there are people who came here and they did break the law,” Lopez told The Christian Post. “We just want to do it in a way that’s tough but fair.”
During Tuesday’s debate, fellow GOP candidate Mitt Romney likened Gingrich’s answer to amnesty. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann also used the “A” word in an email her campaign sent out after the debate. “His (Gingrich’s) immigration policy effectively equates to amnesty for foreigners residing in the United States unlawfully stating,” her email states.
Lopez denounced Romney and the other candidates for holding tight to harsh immigration stances. Candidates who have adopted hardline stances that would uniformly expel illegal immigrants are, he said, pandering to a small fraction of the party which does not represent most conservatives.
National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson called on Congress this past summer to embrace “just and humane” immigration reform. Additionally the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution during a June meeting rejecting amnesty for the undocumented, but urging for a “just and compassionate path to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures.”
“People like Mitt Romney, especially if he wants to get elected, will need to stop pandering to people who are loud but are wrong,” Lopez said.
While Gingrich’s words are encouraging, NHCLC Executive Director Pineda said that he and other Hispanics are watching to see if heholds his position.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry initially defended his decision to approve local legislation allowing undocumented students to attend state institutions of higher learning as a humane choice. He soon adopted a stricter tone about immigration after facing increased scrutiny.
NHCLC President the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said Latinos are also disillusioned with Republican efforts in Arizona, Alabama and most recently, Utah to deport suspected illegal immigrants. But he added that “the Hispanic community is disappointed with both parties.”
The White House recently ordered the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to reprioritize deportation cases to keep low-risk illegal immigrants out of the pipeline. However, Rodriguez said Hispanics, who voted for Barack Obama over 2008 Republican nominee John McCain 67 percent to 37 percent, are still disappointed with the president's efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
As a result, Rodriguez predicts that Hispanic voters are either going to stay home in 2012 or punish either the Democratic or Republican party with their vote. “The question is who will they punish?" Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez commended Gingrich for his efforts to reach disillusioned Hispanics with a bilingual website called “The Americano.” Rodriguez told The Christian Post that the former speaker launched the exclusive Hispanic campaign before entering the race.
The site states that the online publication is a company of Gingrich Communications.
The NHCLC leader noted that Gingrich has a chance at drawing Hispanics to his side and other candidates should adopt a similar stance on immigration.