Current front-runner in the Republican presidential race Newt Gingrich advocated a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants at Tuesday's debate. Other topics at the CNN debate in Washington, D.C., included foreign aid, the Patriot Act and Syria.
Former Speaker of the House Gingrich advocated a review board to decide if immigrants who currently reside in the United States without proper documentation should be allowed a path to citizenship. Gingrich also explained that he supported the “Red Card Solution” by the Kriebel Foundation.
“If you've come here recently, you've got no ties to this country, you ought to go home. Period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids, two grandkids, you've been paying taxes, 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,” Gingrich said.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took exception to Gingrich's proposal. Amnesty programs create a magnet for illegal immigration, they argued.
When asked about Gingrich's specific example of someone who has been here for 25 years, Romney, who is tied with Gingrich in most national polls, didn't directly answer the question, but said it was an “extreme exception.”
“The principle is we're not going to have an amnesty system that says the people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally,” Romney said.
Gingrich responded, “I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy that destroys families that have been here a quarter century.”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the only candidate to say that the Patriot Act should be repealed. The Patriot Act was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to give law enforcement more tools to fight terrorism.
“I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic, because it undermines our liberty," Paul charged.
Gingrich and Romney argued that civil liberties are protected in criminal law, but enemy combatants in a war are not afforded those same protections. “There's a different body of law that relates to war,” Romney said.
Paul countered that Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist and criminal law worked to punish his actions. “You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights,” Paul said.
“Timothy McVeigh succeeded. That's the whole point,” Gingrich responded. “I don't want a law that says, after we lose a major American city, we're sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, you try to take out an American city, we're going to stop you.”
Paul then warned that Gingrich's line of reasoning would lead away from democracy and toward a police state.
Questions from the audience came from scholars at two conservative think tanks – American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. One of those questions came from Paul Wolfowitz, visiting scholar at American Enterprise Institute, who had served in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush and was president of World Bank. Wolfowitz asked if the money spent under President Bush to fight “AIDS and malaria in Africa and elsewhere,” were “wise expenditures, or do you think we can no longer afford them?”
The question gave former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum an opportunity to display his experience in global development issues.
“Well, as the author of the Global Fund bill and the Millennium Challenge in the United States Senate, someone who worked with the president on PEPFAR to deal with the issue of AIDS in Africa, I believe it's absolutely essential. Africa was a country on the brink, on the brink of complete meltdown and chaos, which would have been fertile ground for the radical Islamists to be able to get a foothold.
“America is that shining city on the hill. It is the city that comes to the aid of those in trouble in the world,” Santorum answered.
Paul argued that the foreign aid Santorum described is “worthless.” “It doesn't do any good for the people.”
“The biggest threat to our national security is our financial condition,” Paul said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry had earlier called for a no-fly zone over Syria, along with other sanctions, to try to force Bashar al-Assad to step down. He repeated that position in the debate.
Romney pointed out that al-Assad is not using air power, so a no-fly zone would not have much impact.
“They have 5,000 tanks in Syria. A no-fly zone wouldn't be the right military action. Maybe a no drive zone,” Romney said to laughter from the audience. “This is a nation which is not bombing its people at this point.”