According to some recent polls, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has taken the lead in the Republican presidential primary race, and as has happened with previous front-runners, his remarks about immigration at a debate stirred controversy.
At a CNN-sponsored debate on November 22, Gingrich said he does not think it is realistic to deport illegal immigrants who have been settled in the United States for many years.
“If you’ve been here 25 years and you’ve got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and 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.
The Wall Street Journal called this stance a “major political risk,” given that the primary race has so far been a contest between candidates vying to prove their hard-line bonafides when it comes to immigration reform.
When he entered the race, Texas Governor Rick Perry immediately posed a threat to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s front-runner status, but Perry’s campaign ran into trouble after a debate at which he defended the Texas policy of extending in-state tuition to some children of illegal immigrants. Romney and other GOP candidates seized on this issue to paint Perry as too soft on the issue of immigration, in contrast to their own positions.
Herman Cain has been one of the candidates eager to assert a tough persona regarding immigration while vying to remain a top-tier candidate, though some said he went too far by proposing a deadly electric fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. Cain later said his proposal was meant as a joke.
Romney and other candidates, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, attacked Gingrich at the debate, saying he was proposing amnesty for illegal immigrants. But some Republican have spoken out in support of Gingrich, saying his more moderate immigration stance could appeal to a significant portion of the party.
Speaking to NPR, Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute said Gingrich’s debate statement reflected the long-standing position of Republican centrists, including many business owners, employers and those members of the party with “internationally oriented” views.