By Kendra Marr
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a bold goal for the next decade: Overhaul the country's immigration system so that every worker in the United States is legal.
"We are not going to deport 11 million people," Gingrich said Thursday as he kicked off his first forum on Latino issues. "There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty."
A possible presidential candidate, Gingrich stressed that his target of establishing an entirely legal work force is "not a call for amnesty." Rather, he said, it's about applying common sense to the immigration debacle.
"Dos y dos son cuatro" (two plus two equals four), he said to chuckles.
Gingrich's comments came as he and other GOP leaders seek to step up their outreach to Latino voters, the fastest-growing constituency in the country and one Republicans have struggled to win in recent elections. Gingrich is billing his first conference -- sponsored by The Americano, a bilingual website he launched last year to attract more Latinos to the Republican Party -- as a step toward bringing conservative innovation to issues that affect Latinos.
Over two days, more than 60 speakers, including Spain's former prime minister and former Bush administration Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, will offer conservative policy takes through panel discussions.
While Gingrich hasn't said whether he'll seek the White House in 2012, peeling Latino voters away from President Barack Obama will be a critical test for any Republican nominee. Immigration reform has been stymied in recent years, but Democrats are still hoping to pass the DREAM Act during the lame-duck session.
"The cynic would say it's all politics, but I would also offer that it's good policy as well because Hispanics are the fastest-growing population," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Gingrich floated the idea Thursday that credit card companies could be tasked with creating ID cards that track workers' legal status.
"Let's find someone who actually knows what they're doing," he said. "It should be possible for any employer, anyone in the United States, as fast as you swipe your ATM card to get cash, to swipe a card to know whether or not they're able to hire you."
He also advocated establishing different rules for immigrants who came here as children versus those who crossed the border as adults. Gingrich said some parts of the DREAM Act are "useful," but he doesn't like that those who broke the law would be able to jump in line ahead of those waiting to go through the legal process back home.
"If you want to bring it up for amendment, I think that's a useful step forward," he told reporters. "If [what] they're trying to do is a political gimmick -- saying yes or no without any amendment -- I think that's a foolish procedure and counterproductive."
In recent midterm elections, three Latino GOP candidates won top statewide offices for the first time. And while Democratic candidates swept the Latino vote, Republicans made gains. Exit polls found that 38 percent of Latino voters cast ballots for Republican House candidates in 2010, despite forecasts that anti-immigration sentiment driven by Arizona's controversial new law would erode the party's Latino support. In contrast, during the 2006 midterm cycle, Republican House candidates received 30 percent of the Latino vote.