During the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush was criticized by some conservatives for calling himself a "compassionate conservative." Some believed the term to be redundant.
Now we're in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign, and candidate Newt Gingrich has called for a "humane" policy on illegal immigrants. Mr. Gingrich wants illegal residents who have been in America for 25 years to stay, so as not to "separate families."
Seeking to clarify comments he made during the Republican debate on national security last week, Mr. Gingrich told Fox News, "I am for deporting all recent unattached illegals. I am for a local citizen panel to consider certification of those who have been here 25 years and have family and community (ties) and have been law abiding and taxpaying."
While I salute Mr. Gingrich's validation of "family values," there are several problems with his suggestion.
First, why 25 years? Why not 24, or 23? How about 15? What if the children are adults? If a single parent remained because of divorce or death, would that parent be deported?
Second, what is to keep the local citizen panel from being co-opted by liberal interest groups working for the Democratic Party? Mr. Gingrich's call to "...be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship..." may sound good to some, but once those here illegally have been "certified," interest groups will surely lobby on their behalf for full citizenship.
Republicans should not have to prove their "compassion" by supporting a statute of limitations on lawbreakers. Instead, Republicans should present examples of immigrants who have come to America legally and built a life while obeying the law.
Gingrich is correct when he says we are not about to round up 11 million illegal immigrants, as America rounded up more than 100,000 Japanese at the start of World War II, many of them U.S. citizens. But doing nothing or granting Mr. Gingrich's proposed "path to legality" (through certification) will only draw more illegals.
In my ideal world (and some U.S. laws might have to change to accomplish it), this is what I think should be done: Illegal immigrants who have jobs, pay taxes and are law abiding can stay as temporary residents provided they are doing jobs no American citizen wants to do. An employer can prove that by advertising for a position and if no citizen applies, the illegal immigrant may be hired for a fixed period of time, after which the position must be advertised again.
The illegal immigrant should be forbidden any unemployment or welfare benefits. Medical insurance, or the cost of any care, should be provided by the employer. Immigrant children can be educated in public schools (and taught English) provided their parents pay property taxes. If an illegal immigrant is renting or living with others, he or she should pay a certain amount to defray the cost of education. If a child is born in America to illegal immigrants, that child should not automatically receive U.S. citizenship (a court ruling reinterpreting the Constitution would be required to change the automatic granting of citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S.)
After two or three renewals of the illegal's special visa, the person must return to his or her native land for a specified period of time and then apply for re-entry.
Should the illegal immigrant desire citizenship, that person should first learn English and American history. The path ought to be rigorous so that we know the person is coming to America for more than just the goodies the U.S. government provides.
Most importantly, we must protect and secure our country's borders. Mr. Gingrich's hero, Ronald Reagan is credited with saying, "A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation."
Something else troubles me about this debate. Why is it compassionate to suggest ways for people who have broken our laws to escape the consequences but cruel to require that they obey our laws in not entering the country illegally in the first place?
Everyone wants a better life for themselves and their children. American citizens mostly seek that better life by conforming to the law. Illegal immigrants should do the same.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.