Charleston, S.C. – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich waded back into the thorny debate over illegal immigration Monday and blasted the Obama administration for suing to block parts of South Carolina’s tough new immigration law.
The Republican presidential hopeful also said he would cut off federal funding to any municipalities that declare themselves “sanctuary cities” and refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.
Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for 20 years, talked about immigration briefly during a town hall meeting at the College of Charleston. The stop was part of a three-day campaign tour Gingrich started in South Carolina Monday.
Gingrich drew criticism from his Republican opponents last week when he called for a “humane” immigration policy that would create a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for a long time and have ties in the community. Some of his critics dismissed the proposal as a form of amnesty.
Gingrich did not back off that proposal Monday night. Instead, he took aim at the White House, highlighting how Mexico and other Latin American and Caribbean countries have filed court papers in support of the federal lawsuit targeting South Carolina. The suit argues the state’s law interferes with the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration.
“No American president has the right to side with foreigners against the people and laws of the United States,” Gingrich said. “The people of the United States don’t want a president who is confused about whose rights they are defending.”
In part, South Carolina’s law requires police to determine the immigration status of certain suspects. Georgia enacted a similar immigration law this year, though parts of it are tied up in the federal court amid a legal challenge brought by a coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups.
Gingrich also said the government should do a better job of controlling the nation’s borders, make English the official language of the government, and make it easier to deport noncitizens, particularly members of the El Salvadorian MS-13 gang.
He repeated his proposal from last week, saying some illegal immigrants should be given special consideration, including people who have lived here many years, obeyed the law, and paid taxes.
“They are married,” he said. “They have three kids, two grandkids. They belong to your church. Do you really think the American people are going to send police in to take that person away from their family? I don’t.”
He also denied he was proposing some sort of amnesty as some of his critics have charged.
“Several of my friends have said I am for amnesty. That is not true,” he said. “I think there is a humane, orderly way to do this.”
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com