Most candidates have an issues tab on their web site. Newt Gingrich has a solutions tab. The very first "solution" on the site features a ten point plan to reform immigration. The first thing I noticed about Newt's 10 point plan is that it actually has 11 points! Most of them are bizarre, misguided, or simply wrong. As someone with experience working in the State Department's visa bureaucracy, I think Newt's plan looks like it was thrown together without any real input from anyone with a detailed understanding of the issue. Some thoughts:
Proving residence. Gingrich hasn't explained what the exact criteria would be for his amnesty, but in the last debate, he referenced illegal immigrants who have been in the country for twenty-five years and have been obeying the law and paying taxes. But how would immigrants prove how long they'd been in the country? When I was a consular officer adjudicating visa applications overseas, I learned early on that if you request documents from a visa applicant, they will find a way to produce them. With their ability to live in the U.S. hanging in the balance, if you ask prospective amnesty applicant to provide documentation to prove that they've been in the country for a long time, they'll find a way to present fake leases, letters from employers and the like. Even if you ask migrants to provide copies of tax returns, those too can be falsified. The only possible fool-proof verifier would be procuring transcripts of their tax returns directly from the IRS. But as Mark Krikorian rightly pointed out last week, very few illegal immigrants have been in the country for 25 years, and of those, just a tiny percentage would be able to prove that they've been faithfully paying taxes each year using their own identity.
Review panels. Perhaps the most bizarre element of Gingrich's proposal is the creation of "citizens' review" panels which would be formed by the Department of Justice and would decide which illegal immigrants could stay in the country, apparently in accordance within some sort of framework of national standards. Among other requirements, applicants would need to prove that they can support themselves, pay for their own health insurance, demonstrate proficiency in English, and pay a $5,000 fine. Those last three requirements would surely wipe out all but a handful of illegal immigrants from consideration. And on a practical level, asking ordinary citizens to play the role of immigration judge is absurd. Few would want to tell an illegal immigrant that lives in their neighborhood that they have to leave the country. And the plan also gives illegal immigrants temporary legal status until they show up for the citizens review panel hearing. Those with a weak case would no doubt fail to show up, or would keep postponing their hearing and meanwhile, they'd presumably have the right to work legally in the interim.
Visa overstays. The ten-point, eleven-point plan is long on rhetoric and short on specifics, but it looks as though Gingrich would greatly expand the issuance of various types of non-immigrant visas (NIV's). But there is no mention of the need for a reliable entry-exit tracking system so that we can ensure that foreign nationals depart upon the expiration of their visas. In fact, there seems to be no acknowledgment that the visa overstay problem exists at all. Point six of the platform refers to the estimated U.S. population of illegal immigrants having "entered illegally." The truth is that approximately half entered legally and overstayed visas. In FY 2010, the issuance rate for visitor visa applications was 81%, a striking figure considering that the bulk of applicants come from developing countries. And despite the recession, NIV issuance in Mexico in FY 2010 reached its highest level since 2002. Yet the only mention of visitor visas in Newt's plan refers to the need to cut down on wait times for applicants.
American exceptionalism. Solution number eight reads: "ensure that every new citizen and every young American learn American history and the key principles of American Exceptionalism." Earlier in the plan, Newt tells us that the amnesty will only provide legal status, not citizenship, so it's unclear who he's referring to here or how it helps solve our immigration crisis. But the notion serves to underscore how delusional Newt is. Who is going to be providing these lectures on American exceptionalism to illegal immigrants? Newt and Callista?
The plan is a mess. Even the first two sentences raise questions. "America must be a nation of laws. Everyone in the United States should be here legally," it reads. That reminds me of one of those old SAT questions. All persons who wear blue shirts are named David. Does everyone named David have a blue shirt? Gingrich supporters like to think of their candidate as a visionary, an ideas man. But on immigration, his plan appears to be half-baked, at best.
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