The surprise Republican presidential frontrunner in some polls said during a debate last week that illegals with several decades and deep entanglements in American life shouldn’t be deported.
Before conservatives self-immolate and toss yet another candidate on the heap, let’s at least comb through what he said.
First, from a purely human standpoint, he’s right: Do you really want a friend or associate of 20 or 25 years deported, perhaps dividing a family?
Second, from a purely practical standpoint, doing so would be a bureaucratic nightmare. As Ed Rogers, writing at WashingtonPost.com, notes, “Gingrich was simply telling the truth. We will not deport a population as large as the state of Ohio’s, and any candidate who says otherwise is either ignorant or a hypocrite, and should be penalized, not rewarded.”
Third, Gingrich didn’t suggest citizenship for those who remain; rather, some other “red-card” designation that would bring the illegals out of the shadows and into law-abiding society.
At that point, conservatives would be absolutely right to insist that a number of things happen.
First, either the illegals have been using false identification or they’ve been evading taxes or both. To qualify to stay, they should have to face the music – by either paying back taxes and penalties, and/or being criminally prosecuted for identify theft (or falsification) or tax evasion, or both.
If they’re willing to endure those punitive measures in order to stay, that is their choice. It’s a humane, yet legally sound path to solving this problem.
In America’s decades-long neglect of immigration law, and our growing attempts to secure the border and rectify the wrongs done, propriety seems to have run smack dab into practicality. But we think a cool-headed consideration of Gingrich’s solution could serve both ends: propriety and practicality.
Of course, the first step must be the securing of America’s border and a nationwide crackdown on hiring illegals. That alone will lead to the infinitely more practical self-deportation of those without deep ties or the willingness to finally pay the piper.
No editorial page in the land is more opposed to blanket amnesty. But this wouldn’t be that. Quite the opposite: It would be the only doable way to hold illegal immigrants accountable. That’s a pretty conservative value, wouldn’t you say?
Moreover, conservatives must be careful – especially if they want to prevail in next year’s general elections – not to reflexively reject any notion of a practical way forward on immigration. They’re playing with fire, and are likely to get burned, if they regard deportation of all illegals, no matter how long their tenure, as a litmus test of a presidential candidate.