Co-written by John Dausend
Something’s rotten in Denmark. Suddenly we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Newt Gingrich, supposedly one of the staunchest conservatives in the GOP. At the CNN debate last week, Gingrich broke with party faithfuls and took a humanitarian stance on the issue of undocumented immigrants in this country: “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.” Republicans reacted swiftly, and negatively, to Gingrich’s “liberal” view on illegal immigration; some said his campaign was perhaps fatally wounded. It’s doubtful, however; his comment that Occupy Wall Street protesters should “take a bath” and “get a job” were more likely than not redemptive points.
Gingrich walked his previous position back a bit this weekend (but not very far), saying at a town hall event, “I am not for amnesty for 11 million people . . . But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties run so deeply in America that it would truly be a tragedy to try and rip their family apart.”
However, his stance runs contrary to that of the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, an organization that Gingrich has had a long-standing association with. As written on the Heritage Foundation’s immigration page: “They [the Obama Administration] are halting over 300,000 pending deportations. Illegal immigrants without a criminal conviction will likely be allowed to stay in the US plus get a work permit. Did they forget that it’s a crime to enter the US illegally or to overstay a visa? The announcement is bad news both because it’s amnesty and because it lets illegal immigrants take more jobs while millions of Americans remain out of work. And what about the claim that it saves money not to enforce the law?”
John Dausend, with whom I collaborated on this article, has some theories that may be very close to the mark: Gingrich’s scheme is multi-faceted. The first part is, of course, to garner what he can of the Hispanic vote. Although only legally documented Hispanics, of course, can vote in 2012, as the sole GOP presidential candidate who has shown any compassion toward undocumented immigrants (aside from Rick Perry, who was swiftly slapped down by the ideologically-driven party believers when he expressed sympathy for undocumented immigrants), Gingrich may be at the top of the GOP heap in terms of garnering the Hispanic vote.
And then there are the unions, that very convenient whipping-boy of the right-wingers – and this brings us to the second part of John Dausend’s theory, that Gingrich’s position is a back-door entry into the leagues of union-busting conservatives. Consider this: If, say, 12 million undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay in the United States while allegedly pursuing a very slow, plodding, decade-long “path to citizenship,” they will ever remain in the state of limbo that provides them the lowest-paying, most unpleasant jobs in this country that even unemployed Americans don’t want and won’t take, while being simultaneously denied the legal rights of U.S. citizens, and being swiftly schooled that any attempt to unionize would be at risk of firing or, worse, deportation. The “path to citizenship” promoted by Gingrich is likely fraught with “behavioral standards” which include flying under the radar and making no waves. For the undocumented, unionization of, say, migrant workers, would be too risky to contemplate. Taking Gingrich’s “path to citizenship” would lead undocumented immigrants into a trap that would mirror a legalized version of slavery.
The third part of John Dausend’s theory – no small thing – would be that, in conjunction with this snail’s pace “path to citizenship,” corporations would be able to continue to hire undocumented immigrants at lower wages, and would be able to continue to legally exploit this workforce, without risk of criminal penalties. Hiring undocumented workers is illegal, although it’s not routinely enforced on the employer end; hiring undocumented workers on a legal path to citizenship – even if that “path” lasts a decade – is not.
Apparently conservative faithfuls believe it would be economically sensible to spend government money and resources rounding up 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants and shipping them off – dropping them at the border, perhaps, with cab fare? It’s possible that Gingrich is simply trying to appeal to the very small percentage of sensible thinkers in the GOP’s base. We can only speculate, and Newt’s not saying, but it behooves us to think a little further about Newt’s motives in taking a position that is so vastly unpopular within his party’s base. Newt’s no dummy; Newt’s a skilled and seasoned politician; Newt’s quite adept at the spin, and for him to take this position speaks to a larger agenda – or, maybe, several larger agendas.
What we know, and what we can count on, is that Newt’s ethics are now and have always been questionable: In 1997, Newt Gingrich became the first House speaker ever to be disciplined for ethics violations for “failing to ensure that financing for two projects would not violate federal tax law and by giving the House ethics committee false information.” A majority of Republicans voted to discipline him, and he was fined $300,000; only 28 Republicans voted against the discipline. Those were the days.
When we watch this “grandfatherly” GOP candidate speak broadly about compassion for undocumented immigrants, we need to remember that, for Gingrich, ethics and honesty and compassion and conviction take a distant second to political expediency. With enough political acumen, Gingrich could possibly kill several birds with one well-tossed stone – protect his corporate cronies, garner the Hispanic vote, and flood the workforce with employees who aren’t likely to stand with unions against their benefactors.
The past is the best predictor of the future. Newt’s up to something.