“I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them,” Gingrich said during a GOP presidential debate on CNN last week. “And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”
The Pew Hispanic Center decided to break down what Gingrich’s plan might mean in practice. According to their survey, first flagged by the New York Times, almost two-thirds of the US’ 10.2 million adult illegal immigrants have lived here for at least a decade, and nearly half have kids who are minors. The survey also notes, “Overall, at least 9 million people are in ‘mixed-status’ families that include at least one unauthorized adult and at least one US-born child.”
It’s unclear whether “been here for 25 years and has kids” is exactly the criteria for immigrants to whom Gingrich is prepared to offer relief, but the Pew survey suggests millions might be eligible even under those terms. And any solution involving “millions” is probably way more than the immigration restrictionist GOP base is willing to support.
In the past, Gingrich has been able to thread the needle between advocating immigration reform policies that border on plausible and using inflammatory rhetoric to insulate himself from conservative criticism. For instance, on Thursday in Iowa, Gingrich signed a pledge to build a southern border fence by 2013. Ironically, according to the Pew survey, the large number of unauthorized immigrants in the US who have been here for a long time and have reared families is the result of the fact that “the inflow [of immigrants] has slowed down significantly in recent years, as the US economy has sputtered and border enforcement has tightened.” Even Gingrich probably can’t get away with saying that during a GOP debate.