Amnesty Creep

By Mark Krikorian on December 2, 2011

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.