Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appeared on Jorge Ramos’ Sunday morning show, “Al Punto,” this weekend and suggested that the best way to deal with the 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the U.S. would be to convince them to go back to their home countries for a couple years in exchange for a temporary guest-worker visa:
RAMOS: Mr. Speaker, in your book, “Winning the Future,” you wrote, and I’m quoting, “everyone currently working in the United States illegally must return to their home country to apply for the worker visa program”…Is this realistic? Do you really think 12 million undocumented workers will voluntarily leave the United States?
GINGRICH: What I said was that we should have a program to have a legal guest-worker system. We should be very clear that we want to increase legal immigration…I think symbolically, you know, the McCain-Kennedy bill said you have to pay a $5,000 fine to the U.S. government. You can fly home, get the visa, and come back for less than $5,000. So you’re asking me — is it possible over a 2-3 year period that every person at some point go home and get the guest-worker permit — because you couldn’t do this in week. This would have to be a transition of 2-3 years. I think virtually everybody would it if they knew we were serious…
Ramos pressed Gingrich further to make sure he was serious:
RAMOS: Let me very clear about this, so you would actually ask 12 million undocumented people to voluntarily leave the United States so that they can become citizens?
GINGRICH: I’d ask them to go home, get the card, and come back. And again, how many people go home anyways on a regular basis?
In theory, Gingrich’s proposal sounds nice. In practice, his ideas spell a national nightmare.
To begin with, most undocumented immigrants don’t “go home on a regular basis.” In fact, most don’t go home at all because leaving the U.S. carries the high risk of not being able to get back in. Gingrich also doesn’t take into account what will happen to the millions of U.S. born children of immigrants or the vacant jobs and homes that would be left behind. He doesn’t provide any details on how exactly the U.S. government would be able to convince a population of immigrants who have feared few things more than deportation by federal immigration authorities that the government can suddenly be trusted overnight. Either way, it seems unlikely that a temporary worker visa that carries no promise of permanent residency or citizenship will serve as a strong incentive to uproot one’s entire family and return to an impoverished country for an undetermined number of years. Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center points out:
“Americans want a fair, practical solution. Expecting 12 million people — many of whom have lived and worked here for years and have US citizen children — to leave the U.S. and wait for a visa in a line that doesn’t currently exist seems rather farfetched.”
Despite his English-only stance, Gingrich has started both a Spanish-language twitter feed and website. When asked if he plans on running in the 2012 presidential race, Gingrich said he will come back and talk about it in January of 2011.