'Humane' immigration policy: Is Newt Gingrich the next Rick Perry? (video)
Newt Gingrich said in Tuesday's presidential debate that he couldn't imagine deporting illegal immigrants who have been in the US a long time. When Rick Perry said something similar, his collapse began.
Republican presidential candidates sparred over national-security issues Tuesday night, differing sharply on a range of issues – from immigration to aid to Pakistan to the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Newt, now and then
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The debate was the second focusing on foreign policy and national security issues in a little over a week. It was also the first since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich surged to the top of several polls.
So perhaps the biggest talking point of the night was Mr. Gingrich's stance on illegal immigration. Departing from the orthodox Republican line of opposing any form of amnesty, Gingrich said he could not imagine an America that was not “humane” and that did not allow immigrants who have lived and worked in the country “for 25 years” to remain in their families and communities and legalize their status.
That prompted Gingrich’s rivals to pounce, with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota labeling his plan “amnesty” and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney saying it would create a “magnet” for further illegal immigration.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who heads the state with the longest stretch of the southern border, promised to “shut down” the US-Mexico border within a year of taking office. After that, he said, the issue of what to do about illegal immigrants already in the country could be addressed.
Governor Perry, a one-time darling of the Republican presidential campaign, saw his high-flying numbers plummet, especially among conservative voters, after he made comments on immigration similar to Gingrich’s at a debate earlier this fall.
In theory, the debate should have played to new king-of-the-hill Gingrich's strengths. In a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, 46 percent of likely Republican voters picked Gingrich as the candidate who would do the best job handling foreign policy, compared with 16 percent who picked Romney. In a new CNN poll, 36 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters said Gingrich is the most qualified to take on the duties of commander-in-chief, compared with 20 percent who chose Romney.