Hispanics are not a typical target demographic for Republicans seeking a presidential nomination. Rather, since at least 2007, GOP candidates tend to jump all over each other to prove that they will take a tougher, no-amnesty line on immigration. But Newt Gingrich is breaking from the pack.
In a symbolic move, Gingrich has granted one of his first post-announcement interviews to Jorge Ramos, the anchor of Noticiero Univision and the national Spanish-language Sunday program, Al Punto. In the interview, Gingrich expresses support for a version of the DREAM Act and speaks of creating a system that would provide a path to legality for many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Univision provided TIME with an advance transcript of the interview, set for broadcast Sunday. Here is the key excerpt:
JR: MR GINGRICH, TALKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION AND THE HISPANIC VOTE, OBVIOUSLY YOU NEED LATINOS TO WIN THE WHITE HOUSE. THERE’S NO OTHER WAY. YOU HAVE EVEN…
JR: … SET UP THE AMERICANO.COM. HOWEVER, YOU ARE NOT MOVING AN INCH ON IMMIGRATION. FOR INSTANCE, DO YOU SUPPORT THE DREAM ACT?
NG: I think the Dream Act, if it were amended, could be passed and I think candidly that the Democrats last year wanted the issue, more than they wanted the legislation. If they had been willing to allow amendments in the Senate, they could have passed the Dream Act last year. And I think it was a deliberate, cynical political ploy not to allow those amendments to come up. And I think, this is exactly what’s wrong with where the President is taking us on immigration. His recent speech in El Paso was a campaign speech, it wasn’t a presidential speech. Now, you may not agree with me but let me at least say
NG: …the following. I’ve worked on immigration since 1986 and in the late 1990’s as Speaker, I helped save hundreds of thousands of Central Americans from being deported and we amended the law and we made sure that they could achieve residency in the United States…
JR: OF COURSE, WITH THE TPS…
NG: …particularly Nicaraguans and Hondurans and El Salvadorians. So I’ve been at this a long time. I don’t think you can pass a comprehensive bill. President Bush couldn’t pass a comprehensive bill, when Barack Obama had a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate he couldn’t pass a comprehensive bill, but I think you could step by step pass a series of bills and achieve remarkable progress in the next three or four years. It’s very disappointing to see the immigration reduced to a political game. We have an absolute obligation to find a way to get America to be a country in which everyone who is here is here legally and I think we’ve got to have a much different conversation than the El Paso speech.
JR: MR. GINGRICH, YOU ARE TALKING STEP BY STEP. EXACTLY WHAT DO YOU MEAN? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE 11 MILLION UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS IN THIS COUNTRY? YOU ARE NOT FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM, I MEAN; YOU WILL NOT FAVOR LEGALIZING 11 MILLION PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY.
NG: I would favor finding steps that determine who is clearly going to remain in the United States and I think you got to start from that point
JR: BUT HOW CAN WE DO IT?
NG: First, somebody who’s been here 20 years, somebody who’s been here 20 years and is married and has three kids and has been paying taxes and lived a totally peaceful life and is a citizen – but by the way they came here 20 years ago outside the law. We got to find the way to routinize and get them in the law without necessarily getting them on a path to citizenship. Now there ought to be a way to do that. And one of the things I’m looking at, and this may come as a surprise to you, is in World War II we had a selective service board where every local community could apply common sense to the draft process. We may want to think about a citizen board that can actually look at things and decide, is this a person that came in two months ago and doesn’t nearly have any ties here? Or is this a person who clearly is integrated into the society but unfortunately has been undocumented, therefore, we have to rethink how we are approaching them.
In previous interviews, Gingrich has spoken about giving undocumented immigrants a legal status short of citizenship, that would allow them to stay in the country. He has said he opposes comprehensive immigration reform, which he sees as a political tactic by Democrats. “What I’m opposed to is the federal level passage of a single bill that pretends it does all the right things, but is actually designed to ensure that millions of people get to be American citizens in hopes that they will vote Democrat, which I think is the Obama plot,” Gingrich said at an appearance in Iowa last year. Gingrich’s immigration policies are rated a D- by the group NumbersUSA, which advocates a strict no-tolerance policy for undocumented immigrants.
For years, Gingrich has been one of a minority of Republican politicians who have been vocal in reaching out directly to Hispanic voters, who are becoming an increasingly influential part of the electorate. He has founded a website for conservative Hispanics and helped to organize conferences to champion conservative politics among the Spanish-speaking community. In the Univision interview, Gingrich speaks Spanish twice in a show of solidarity. But Gingrich has not always been consistent in his sensitivities to the Hispanic community. In 2007, in a speech before the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich said the following:
The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. … We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.