I missed most of the 107,296th Republican Presidential debate last night, having decided to attend another debate instead, but I managed to catch some of the end of a re-broadcast of the GOP debate. I was especially interested in a question asked by the great and good Nick Schulz on the issue of immigration policy. The following excerpt from the debate is a long one, but it is worth highlighting:
QUESTION: I have a question about high-skilled immigration. We hear a lot about low-skilled immigration, so I want to ask you about high-skilled immigration.
What would you do to ensure that the United States is as welcoming as possible to the world’s skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs?
BLITZER: Senator Santorum?
SANTORUM: Well, as the son of a legal immigrant to this country, I strongly believe in legal immigration and believe we are that shining city on the hill, that our future — if you look at all of the jobs that are being created in our economy today, a huge percentage of them come from the legal immigrants of this county — country who have innovated, who created great products, who created great companies and employed lots of people.
That’s one of the reasons that — that I put together my economic plan, was to take all that great innovation that’s coming as a result, in part, of legal immigration and make sure that those products that are being created are actually made here in America.
That’s part of the problem that — you know, Reaganomics was criticized as trickle-down. Problem is, we’re not seeing that money trickle down to the blue-collar workers in America. And that’s why I put forth a four-point economic plan to revitalize manufacturing that begins with zeroing out the corporate tax for manufacturers; also, regulatory reform, repatriation of profits, if invested in this country, to pay no taxes; and finally, energy policy that will explode the energy industry in this country.
We do those things, we’ll not only have the innovation, which I support, coming from legal — legal immigrants, but we’ll have that money trickle down to blue-collar workers and we can see that income mobility that a lot of people are right in that is not happening in America.
BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, let me let you broaden out this conversation. Back in the ’80s — and you remember this well. I was covering you then. Ronald Reagan and you — you voted for legislation that had a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as you well remember. There were, what, maybe 12 million, 10 million — 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now.
Some called it amnesty then; they still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were President of the United States, with these millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?
GINGRICH: Let me start and just say I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here.
GINGRICH: You know, about five blocks down the street, you’ll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let’s be clear how much the United States has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.
I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it — and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3 million. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.
We got neither. So I think you’ve got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system — once you’ve put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.
If you’re here — if you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you 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.
The Creeble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a pass to citizenship. And so there’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, you agree with the speaker?
BACHMANN: Well, I don’t agree that you would make 11 million workers legal, because that, in effect, is amnesty. And I also don’t agree that you would give the DREAM Act on a federal level. And those are two things that I believe that the speaker had been for, and he can speak for himself.
But those are two areas that I don’t agree with. What I do think, though, is what Steve — what Steve Jobs said to President Obama. He had said to President Obama that he had to move a great deal of his operation over to China because he couldn’t find 30,000 engineers to be able to do the work that needed to be done.
That’s what we want to do. We do want to have people. And I agree with the speaker, people like chemists and engineers, and people who are highly skilled.
We think about the United States and what’s in the best interests of the United States. If we can utilize these workers, like Steve jobs wanted to, then we need to offer those visas. That will help the United States. But I don’t agree that we should make 11 million workers who are here illegally legal.
BLITZER: Let me let the speaker respond to that.
GINGRICH: Well, I mean, two things, first of all, in the DREAM Act, the one part that I like is the one which allows people who came here with their parents to join the U.S. military, which they could have done if they were back home, and if they serve on it with the U.S. military to acquire citizenship, which is something any foreigner can do.
And I don’t see any reason to punish somebody who came here at three years of age, but who wants to serve the United States of America. I specifically did not say we’d make the 11 million people legal.
I do suggest if you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you’ll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to leave, given the fact that they’ve been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, you want to respond?
BACHMANN: If I understood correctly, I think the speaker just said that that would make 11 people — 11 million people who are here illegally now legal. That’s really the issue that we’re dealing with. And also, it would be the DREAM Act, the federal DREAM Act, which would offer taxpayer-subsidized benefits to illegal aliens. We need to move away from magnets (ph), not offer more.
BLITZER: Let’s broaden it out.
Governor Romney, where do you stand? Are you with the speaker, that some of those illegal immigrants — I think — he didn’t say all — some of them, if they have roots, they belong to a church, for example, should be allowed to stay in this country? ROMNEY: Look, amnesty is a magnet. What when we have had in the past, programs that have said that if people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that’s going to only encourage more people to come here illegally.
The right course for our immigration system is to say we welcome people who want to come here legally. We’re going to have a system that makes that easier and more transparent. But to make sure we’re able to bring in the best and brightest — and, by the way, I agree with the speaker in terms of — I’d staple a green card to the diploma of anybody who’s got a degree of math, science, a Masters degree, Ph.D.
We want those brains in our country. But in order to bring people in legally we’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally.
We welcome legal immigration. This is a party, this is a party that loves legal immigration. But we have to stop illegal immigration for all the reasons the questioner raised, which is, it is bringing in people who in some cases can be terrorists, in other cases they become burdens on our society.
And we have to finally have immigration laws that protect our border, secure the border, turn off the magnets, and make sure we have people come to this country legally to build our economy.
BLITZER: Just to precise, and I’ll give Speaker Gingrich a chance to respond. Are you saying that what he’s proposing, giving amnesty in effect, or allowing some of these illegal immigrants to stay, is a magnet that would entice others to come to this country illegally?
ROMNEY: There’s no question. But to say that we’re going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.
People respond to incentives. And if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so. What I want to do is bring people into this country legally, particularly those that have education and skill that allows us to compete globally. (APPLAUSE)
GINGRICH: 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.
I do believe if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the U.S., we should deport you. I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we should have very severe penalties for employers, but I would urge all of you to look at the Krieble Foundation Plan.
I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. 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.
BLITZER: Governor Perry, are you with the speaker or with the governor, Governor Romney?
PERRY: Here we go again, Mitt. You and I standing by each other again and you used the words about the magnets. And that’s one of the things that we obviously have to do is to stop those magnets for individuals to come in here.
But the real issue is securing that border. And this conversation is not ever going to end until we get the border secure. But I do think that there is a way. That after we secure that border that you can have a process in place for individual who are law- abiding citizens who have done only one thing, as Newt says, 25 years ago or whatever that period of time was, that you can put something in place that basically continues to keep those families together.
But the idea that we’re having this long and lengthy conversation here, until we have a secure border is just an intellectual exercise. You’ve got to secure the border first. And I know how to do that. I’ve been dealing with it for 10 years.
And we have to put the boots on the ground and the aviation assets in place, and secure that border once and for all, and be committed to it.
BLITZER: Let me let Governor Romney respond.
ROMNEY: Yes, I don’t disagree with what Governor Perry indicated. Certainly we have to secure the border. And we talk about people who have been here 25 years, that is the extreme exception…
BLITZER: You would let them stay.
ROMNEY: … not the rule.
BLITZER: You would let them stay?
ROMNEY: I’m not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who get to go. The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.
The answer is we’re going to have a system that gives people who come legally a card that identifies them as coming here legally. Employers are going to be expected to inspect that card, see if they’re here legally. On that basis we’re going to be able to bring you to this country.
The number of people that we need to power our industries, whether that’s agriculture or high tech, we welcome people in here with visa programs. We have a whole series of legal programs. But the idea of focusing a Republican debate on amnesty and who we’re going to give it to, is a huge mistake.
Secure our border, protect legal immigration, and return to a system that follows the law.
Being a child of immigrants who is and will always be grateful for the opportunities provided to me and to my family by a welcoming America, I of course admire and appreciate Newt Gingrich’s answer on immigration the most. Gingrich is entirely right to note that we have not done a good job of providing incentives to foreign students to stay in the United States and lend their talents to this country after their studies are complete. I also applaud the humanity of his comments; Gingrich is to be applauded for refusing to commit to an immigration policy that would break up families, and would interrupt longstanding ties between an immigrant and his/her community. His answer on illegal immigration was the most realistic one; there is no way that we are going to deport 11-12 million people, so we ought to try to find the best and most effective way to integrate them into our society.
Of course, it is unfortunate–though not unexpected–that people like Michele Bachmann either failed to understand what Gingrich was saying, or pretended not to understand it. Equally unfortunate was Mitt Romney’s quasi-nativist pander on the issue. As with other such issues and instances, it is hard to believe that Romney does not know better–he is a very smart, very well-informed candidate–but pretended not to know better for the purpose of getting votes. I keep looking for Romney to tell me which issues he would be willing to lose an election over, rather than compromise his principles, but alas, Romney seems to refuse to take a principled stand over anything. At least Gingrich challenged the nativist wing of the GOP with his answer, even as he acknowledged that he might take a hit for saying and believing what he said and believes.
It is worth emphasizing anew that the United States has prospered because of the flow of smart, skilled, hardworking immigrants eager to use their talents to better their lives and the lives of their families, and eager to lend their talents to the betterment of this country. It would be pure and utter folly if we craft our immigration policy to discourage the flow of immigration to this country. And however much people like Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry purported to offer paeans to the virtues of legal immigration last night, Gingrich’s discussion of immigration and immigration policy was the most sincere one, and the best informed one as well. It would be nice to think that the intellectual courage he displayed, and his decision to address the issue of immigration policy in a comprehensive and thorough manner will be rewarded somehow, irrespective of whether Gingrich finds his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20, 2013.