US News and World Report (Opinion by Frank Sharry): While Newt Gingrich's proposal is extremely limited and far from an adequate policy answer to our broken immigration system, he has played an invaluable role in isolating the key question: What do we do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently settled in the United States?
Specifically, Gingrich offers a "red card" proposal of legal status, but not citizenship, to a small group of undocumented immigrants. While more realistic than "deport 'em all" proposals, the Gingrich plan falls well short of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation of 2006 that included a path to earned citizenship for most undocumented immigrants and received the backing of 23 Republican senators and President George W. Bush. Even an earlier incarnation of Mitt Romney expressed support for a policy that goes well beyond what Gingrich is now proposing.
Despite the limited scope of the Gingrich proposal and despite Romney's past support for a more generous citizenship proposal, the 2011 version of Romney now labels the Gingrich proposal, indeed anything short of the mass expulsion of 11 million people, as "amnesty." The fact is, the Republican field has moved far to the right on the issue and in the process is distancing itself from the pro-immigration and pro-Hispanic legacies of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It also shows some flat-out terrible political judgment.
The GOP's immigration positioning will significantly damage the Republican nominee in the 2012 general election, most acutely among Latino voters. While immigration simply is not a mobilizing issue for most general election voters, it remains a defining issue for Latino voters. By taking such a hard-line position on immigration, the eventual Republican nominee will find it near impossible to earn the 40 percent of the Latino vote Republican candidates need to win the White House. Though immigration is an animating issue for a small sliver of Republican primary and caucus voters, the vast majority of general election voters instead support comprehensive immigration reform instead of deportation plans and prefer solutions over impractical deportation schemes.
So there you have it—on immigration, Newt Gingrich may not have the right policy answer, but he certainly has helped us all ask the right question. The question now is whether anyone in the GOP field can emerge from the primaries ready to compete for Hispanic votes in key swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida. Most likely, the answer to that question is no.
About Frank Sharry:
Frank Sharry is founder and executive director of America's Voice, focused on communications and media as part of a renewed effort to win comprehensive immigration reform. Prior to heading America's Voice, he served as executive director of the National Immigration Forum for 17 years.