Amnesty Creep

When Gingrich lobbed the amnesty bomb in last week's debate, he offered very specific criteria for selecting which illegal aliens he would legalize:

... you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church ...

This wasn't just one example among many — he repeated these specific components several times. There are very few people who meet these criteria; I'd estimated, back-of-the-envelope style, probably fewer than half a million of today's 11 million illegal aliens came 25 years ago (i.e., before 1986), and even fewer would have U.S.-born grandchildren, complied with the tax laws, avoided entanglements with the constabulary, and regularly went to church. A Congressional Research Service report I just dug up confirms that INS estimated that in 2000 there were as many as 500,000 illegal aliens who'd arrived before 1986; in the intervening decade, some share will have gone back, died, or finagled a green card. (INS doesn't seem to have estimated how many belonged to their local church.)

The narrowness of Gingrich's example was obviously just for rhetorical effect; in reality, he wants to amnesty many, many more people than he seemed to suggest in the debate. As I noted the other day:

the tough criteria Gingrich is using to market his amnesty will be watered down to cover a big share of the 11 million illegal aliens, and everyone, including Gingrich, knows this.

Well, the watering-down has already begun. The Pew Hispanic Center just released a report examining how many people would benefit from the Gingrich Amnesty. Its parameters are a more realistic approximation of who would be covered than Newt's clumsy exaggeration; the report draws the lines at 15 or more years of residence (rather than 25) and looks at illegals with minor children (most, though not all, U.S.-born) rather than grandchildren. That yields an upper bound (assuming no fraud, a big assumption) of about 3.5 million beneficiaries of the Gingrich Amnesty, more than got legalized as a result of 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, or IRCA.

This may or may not be a good thing, but it's a more honest look at what would actually happen under Gingrich's preferred approach, rather than the deceptively narrow way he has characterized it.