Newt Gingrich strikes a kinder tone than his rivals when it comes to immigration and the Latino community. Now that the primary has reached Florida, where 11% of Republican voters are Hispanic, Gingrich is slamming Mitt Romney on his far-right stance on immigration. “He certainly shows no concern for the humanity of people who are already here,” Gingrich told Univision’s Jorge Ramos on Wednesday. He went on to accuse Romney of advocating the enforced deportation of “grandmothers and grandfathers” - a charge he also leveled against his rival in the state’s final debate.
Newt Gingrich has engaged in more outreach to the Latino community than any of the other GOP candidates. While Romney was in Iowa talking about vetoing the Dream Act, Gingrich was working to engage the Hispanic community, and has been for over a year. There’s a Spanish-language version of his campaign website: http://www.newtpresidente.com. At one point, he was even tweeting in Spanish with @GingrichEspanol, though he has since closed the account. The image of deporting ‘grandmothers’ is one that comes up frequently as Gingrich touts his vision for Latinos, but when it comes to actual policies, Gingrich and Romney aren’t that far apart.
“This is where Newt has an edge,” Alberto Acereda, a member of Gingrich’s Hispanic outreach team, told TPM in an email, stressing Gingrich’s multi-step plan to create a legal system for immigrants to work in the U.S. “His Latino inclusion is growing and is playing an important role not only in upcoming caucus states like Nevada and Colorado but across the country.”
Gingrich has largely steered clear of the far-right rhetoric on immigration. Romney has been touting a policy of “self-deportation,” much in the way that Arizona and Alabama-style anti-immigration laws aim to make life so miserable for immigrants without papers that they feel no choice but to leave. But Gingrich resists characterizing his policy in those terms. When Ramos asked Gingrich about Romney’s “self-deportation” idea, Gingrich called it something worse than bologna: “I think you have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality…for Romney to believe that somebody’s grandmother is going to be so cut off that she is going to self-deport, I mean this verges — this is an Obama-level fantasy.”
It’s hard to imagine a stronger rebuke. But it wasn’t long before Gingrich was essentially agreeing with Romney — just not in the same words. In the same breath that he labeled Romney’s policy ‘inhumane’ Gingrich pushed the idea that those with “no real connections” — as opposed to his hypothetical grandmother — will pick up and leave, apply for a ‘guest worker program,’ and return to work but never become a citizen. The main difference between the Gingrich and Romney policies is Gingrich’s idea of “citizens’ review” panels to determine which undocumented immigrants have ties to the communities and which do not. The list of requirements to stay with legal residency would be hard for most to pass. Once you do pass, you must pay a penalty of at least $5,000. While the point is to create an humane solution that doesn’t tear apart families, the amount of resources and requirements you need to stay means that, in practice, many undocumented immigrants would face deportation.
Even in the Univision interview, Ramos and Gingrich disagreed over Gingrich’s position. Ramos said that Gingrich is not for immigration reform or even the Dream Act for young people who want to go to college, and Gingrich pushed back that “I’m for a lot of [things]…” and “I’m not going to let you define what immigration reform is.”
There’s some indication Gingrich’s efforts are paying off nationally, but he is actually losing Latinos in Florida, where Romney leads Gingrich among Latino voters by 7 percentage points because the largely Cuban-American population is less concerned with the issue of immigration. Elsewhere, Newt is the leading candidate among Latinos in Texas; nationally, Gingrich beats Romney among independent and foreign-born Latinos.
In Florida, Romney is “pandering to a small segment of Latinos and the hard right,” Acereda says. But beyond Florida, Latinos “will have a clear distinction on who has included them and who is simply playing an ‘outreach’ game.”
Though Gingrich may have an edge with Latinos against Romney, being against comprehensive immigration reform and “half the Dream Act,” as Newt put it, is unlikely to be a winning argument. Gingrich has chosen not to toe the Republican line on immigration in terms of rhetoric, but when it comes to policy — from the Dream Act to making English the official language of the government — Gingrich doesn’t go as far as he likely would need to to beat President Obama. Against Obama, neither candidate tops 25% — not close to the 40% considered the low threshold for winning the election.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.