Give Gingrich credit for trying

Newt Gingrich is known for his ability to generate creative ideas. I commend Gingrich on his movement away from the tired “deport them all” and “secure the border” rhetoric coming from many politicians.

With Gingrich’s admission of not being able to deport all undocumented immigrants currently in our country, he has shifted the debate toward the middle. Unfortunately, he falls short of a truly workable solution. In fact, a vast majority of Republicans in a National Journal poll in December indicate that they favor tough enforcement plus legal status.

Clearly, the creation of some mechanism for undocumented immigrants to become legal is needed. I support Gingrich’s efforts to move forward with this acknowledgement. Our nation will not stand for the roundup and mass deportation of 12 million men, women and children. Mass deportation would be inhumane, immoral and fiscally improbable.

The other policy alternative being considered by immigration restrictionists is “attrition through enforcement.” Many states, including Georgia with HB 87, have attempted to emulate Arizona’s lead in creating hostile environments for foreigners in hopes of driving illegal immigrants elsewhere. Gingrich’s support of these types of state laws undermines his credibility to move toward a workable solution.

In isolation, strict enforcement of what we have on the books now is clearly not an answer, either. Due to HB 87, Georgia’s agricultural industry has suffered tremendously. Our state’s economy lost $391 million and more than 3,200 jobs due to the lack of immigrant labor during the recent picking season. Despite high unemployment numbers, 11,000 farm jobs went unfilled this summer due to the fear around the new state immigration law.

According to recent testimony by agricultural experts, for every one agricultural job that exists, it generates three jobs for U.S. citizens. Instead of creating jobs by vacating immigrant labor, Georgia’s HB 87 actually helped eliminate jobs for U.S. citizens.

The losses will not stop there. Another report indicates that Georgia’s agricultural industry may lose hundreds of millions of dollars more annually for the next 10 years if farmers replace hand-picked crops with crops that can be mechanized. This shift in crop production would place in jeopardy signature crops like Vidalia onions and Georgia peaches. During our current economic downturn, these are real and serious losses of economic activity in our state for a major industry.

Another specific Gingrich proposal is the process of “citizens’ review” committees. However, this proposal is short of what is really needed and will not solve our broken immigration system. This particular proposal has been described by immigration policy experts as a “high risk, low reward” program. A limited pool of immigrants would qualify, clearly undermining its potential impact.

I commend Gingrich for moving toward a workable solution, but would suggest that we must travel further down the road to reach a policy alternative that would actually solve the problem. Dealing with the undocumented population that is here is clearly something that must be accomplished. We also must move toward a solution that is humane and meets our national economic and security needs.

Our congressional leaders must work on a comprehensive immigration solution that is enforceable, restores the rule of law, holds employers accountable, secures our border effectively, provides a path toward earned legalization for those who are here and provides adequate legal mechanisms for people to enter our country legally in the future.

When we acknowledge the complexity of our failed immigration system and deal with its many variables, we then will begin to inch our way toward a workable, robust and enforceable immigration system.

Newt Gingrich has certainly taken steps to acknowledge its complexity.

Jerry Gonzalez is executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.