Finally, some humanity on immigration from Newt

Stephie Ebberts article in the Globe caught my eye this morning, and I found myself admiring Newt Gingrich. 

   FROM TIME to time, TV debates manage to suss out the truth from the talking points. When Rick Perry can’t remember the federal agency he wants to cut, it shows how little he’s committed to the idea. When Herman Cain refers to Wolf Blitzer as “Blitz,’’ it shows how blithe he is about everything. (So does the fact that Cain can’t offer a specific answer to any question that doesn’t include taxes. Game over, dude. You had a good run.)

So what will become of Newt Gingrich’s supposedly shocking moment in the CNN debate last week? Asked about illegal immigration, Gingrich suggested a path to amnesty for law-abiding families: legalization, on a case-by-case basis, for people with community roots, as evidenced by their extended family ties or their membership in a local church. And while church membership, per se, is an impractical and problematic test, Gingrich’s overarching point was clear: Illegal immigrants are people, not statistics.

“I’m prepared to take the heat,’’ Gingrich said, “for saying, ‘Let’s be humane.’ ’’ That heat was swiftly applied by chief rival Mitt Romney, who said any hint of leniency would “only encourage more people to come here illegally.’’

As usual, Romney was echoing the standard GOP tough talk. But it turns out that Gingrich’s nuanced ideas – more than Romney’s stated ones — reflect what most Americans feel about immigration. In a CNN poll of American adults, conducted last week, 67 percent of respondents were “sympathetic’’ or “very sympathetic’’ to illegal immigrants and their families — a number that actually rose since 2010. A Fox News poll of American adults, conducted in October, found that 63 percent think illegal immigrants who have been here since childhood should be eligible for citizenship.

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