John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Amnesty for Amnesty

Posted on November 23, 2011
Newt Gingrich made a horrible mistake last night in the CNN National Security debate.  He told the truth.



He basically said that it is not a good government policy to ferret out immigrants who have been in the country for decades, and then unceremoniously send them back to wherever they came from.  He pointed out that such a policy breaks up families, causes heartache and is not humane.

For bowing to reality, Mr. Gingrich got pummeled by his opponents, most particularly Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.  Romney’s campaign improbably thinks that Newt is an existential threat to their success, and they saw in Newt’s statement the same kind of opportunity that came when Rick Perry ran into trouble for his views on immigration.

I think they are a bit different.  Newt was making an observation that is clearly obvious to anybody paying attention.  Perry was doubling down on a policy that troubles the base profoundly, giving tuition breaks to the kids who are in the U.S. illegally.

Romney is probably right that his attacks on Newt will resonate with a certain part of the Republican base, although I wish that weren’t the case.

I am a big fan of immigrants.  I think they play an essential and quintessential role in American society.  They have built America from the ground up.   They built the canals and the big buildings and the roads and the railroads.  Wave after wave of Africans, Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, Mexicans, Vietnamese, have come to America, faced intense discrimination, persevered and then made invaluable contributions to our unique society.

That Republicans so often find it politically useful to beat up on these immigrants not only goes against the grain of American history, it also is politically stupid.   Just looking at the numbers, the angry white guy vote is an ever shrinking percentage of the electorate.  It might work for one or two more election cycles, but after that, such attitudes will become more of a burden than a blessing.

Newt is a smart guy.  He gets it.  Romney is a smart guy too, and he probably gets it also.  But Romney is so close to getting nominated, he can’t afford a stumble that will alienate an already distrustful base by giving Newt a pass.

It’s too bad.  We need to find a middle ground here, one that doesn’t provide amnesty to recent immigrants (which does act as a magnet to illegal aliens), but does accept the reality of the situation.

Our immigrant laws are pretty stupid.  We make it harder for people to get in the country legally, we promote policies that allow high-quality people to study here but then make it hard for them to stay once they get their degrees, we make almost impossible for tourists with lots of money (i.e. the Chinese and the Russians) to come here to shop, we punish small businesses for hiring cheap labor (which is the only way they can compete), and we make it impossible for folks who are here illegally to become legal, thereby giving the black market more of a reason to stay illegitimate.

We can’t fix all of these problems at once.  The politics are just too toxic.  But we should take it easy on the anti-immigrant rhetoric, maybe imposing an amnesty on the amnesty talk for the rest of the primary.