During the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush was criticized by some conservatives for calling himself a "compassionate conservative." Some believed the term to be redundant.
Now we're in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign and candidate Newt Gingrich has called for a "humane" policy on illegal immigrants. Gingrich wants illegal residents who have been in America for 25 years to stay, so as not to "separate families."
Seeking to clarify comments he made during the Republican debate on national security last week, Gingrich told Fox News, "I am for deporting all recent unattached illegals. I am for a local citizen panel to consider certification of those who have been here 25 years and have family and community (ties) and have been law abiding and taxpaying."
While I salute Gingrich's validation of "family values," there are several problems with his suggestion.
First, why 25 years? Why not 24, or 23? How about 15? What if the children are adults? If a single parent remained because of divorce or death, would that parent be deported?
Second, what is to keep the local citizen panel from being co-opted by liberal interest groups working for the Democratic Party? Gingrich's call to "...be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship..." may sound good to some, but once those here illegally have been "certified," interest groups will surely lobby on their behalf for full citizenship.
Republicans should not have to prove their "compassion" by supporting a statute of limitations on lawbreakers. Instead, Republicans should present examples of immigrants who have come to America legally and built a life while obeying the law.
Gingrich is correct when he says we are not about to round up 11 million illegal immigrants, as America rounded up more than 100,000 Japanese at the start of World War II, many of them U.S. citizens. But doing nothing or granting Gingrich's proposed "path to legality" (through certification) will only draw more illegals.
In my ideal world (and some U.S. laws might have to change to accomplish it), this is what I think should be done: Illegal immigrants who have jobs, pay taxes and are law abiding can stay as temporary residents provided they are doing jobs no American citizen wants to do. An employer can prove that by advertising for a position and if no citizen applies, the illegal immigrant may be hired for a fixed period of time, after which the position must be advertised again.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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