A pro-Mitt Romney "super PAC" is flexing its muscles in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, telling conservative voters not to fall for President Barack Obama’s plan to diminish Romney. The group, called Restore our Future, is running television ads in Iowa and Florida.
"Barack Obama’s plan is working: Destroy Mitt Romney, run against Newt Gingrich," the ad says. "Newt has a ton of baggage. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, and teamed with Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore on global warming. Maybe that’s why George Will calls him the least conservative candidate. Check the facts at NewtFacts.com."
Super PACs aren’t formally affiliated with campaigns, but they can still spend money to try to influence elections, and they don’t face the same disclosure requirements as official campaigns. In this case, Restore our Future is run by supporters of Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
The ad makes a lot of claims. Here, we wanted to check whether Gingrich "supports amnesty for illegal immigrants."
We looked into Gingrich’s position on amnesty when we fact-checked comments Romney made on Nov. 23, 2011. Romney said Gingrich’s immigration plan offered "a new doorway to amnesty." We rated that Mostly True. And in fact, the Restore Our Future ad cites that fact-check as evidence to support its claim. But the wording in this ad is slightly different.
To examine it, we’ll review Gingrich’s positions on illegal immigration and amnesty, then we’ll see how that record compares with the ad’s statement.
Merriam Webster defines amnesty as "the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals."
In recent American politics, though, the usual standard for amnesty is the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That law, supported by President Ronald Reagan, said that illegal immigrants could become legal permanent residents if they could prove they were in this country by Jan. 1, 1982, and met a few other minimal requirements. The law was widely described as an "amnesty" program, both then and now.
Gingrich’s vision for immigration policy is that it takes place in steps, with the first step of securing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. He also supports a program for guest workers, to allow foreign nationals into the United States to work. Finally, some illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay.
"Once you've put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here," Gingrich said at a debate on Nov. 22, 2011. "If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, (and) you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.
"The Krieble Foundation has a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don't get a pass to citizenship. And so there's a way to ultimately end up with a country where there's no more illegality, but you haven't automatically given amnesty to anyone."
Gingrich sets a higher bar for allowing people to stay than the law under Reagan. Based on his comments at the debate and a detailed 10-point plan on his website, Gingrich says his proposal isn’t amnesty for several reasons: It is not citizenship but legal residency; immigrants would have to prove "deep ties to America, including family, church and community ties"; and they would pay a fine of at least $5,000.
In the course of our research, we noticed that advocates for more legal immigration often used this distinction. In their view, amnesty means widespread legalization with few requirements. A path to legality or earned legalization, on the other hand, includes fines, waiting periods, proof of English language proficiency, criminal background checks and other criteria.
Romney, on the other hand, has defined amnesty as giving any kind of special preference to people who are now in the country illegally.
"My view is that those people who have waited in line patiently to come to this country legally should be ahead in line, and those who’ve come here illegally should not be given a special deal or a special accelerated right to become a permanent resident or citizen," Romney said the day after the debate.
Those who oppose more immigration tend to agree with Romney.
"Anything that turns an illegal resident into a legal resident one way or another is an amnesty," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports low levels of immigration, when we asked him about this for our earlier check.
After the debate, Krikorian scolded Gingrich in a blog post on the National Review Online for claiming his plan wasn’t amnesty: "If you want to make a case for amnestying long-established illegal aliens, that can be an honorable position, but call it for what it is. Don’t lie to voters, imagining they’re too stupid to see through your deceit."
On the other side of the issue is Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA, which represents businesses that favor more immigration. She said Gingrich’s avoidance of the loaded term amnesty was understandable, since his plan is limited and requires illegal immigrants to meet various requirements.
She praised Gingrich for his honesty. "He’s getting pilloried for saying we can’t deport 11 million people," she said. "At least Newt is saying, ‘There’s a problem here, let’s come to grips with it.’"
When Romney has been asked about what he would do with the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the country, Romney has stopped short of urging mass deportation.
"You know, there's great interest on the part of some to talk about what we do with the 11 million. My interest is saying, let's make sure that we secure the border, and we don't do anything that talks about bringing in a new wave of those or attracting a new wave of people into the country illegally," Romney said in an interview with Fox News on Nov. 29, 2011.
"Amnesty" has become a radioactive term in American politics, and Republicans in particular do not want their immigration policies described that way. Gingrich supports allowing illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for many years to apply for legal status. He’s said that process should look at each individual and whether they have "family, church and community ties." They would also have to pay a fine. What he describes sounds like a more restrictive process than the 1986 law supported by Reagan that allowed for widespread amnesty.
Still, most legal amnesties include some sort of process. Gingrich’s plan is clearly an amnesty of sorts, though it is more limited in scope.
The ad says Gingrich "supports amnesty for illegal immigrants." That’s a blunter claim than the statement we rated previously from Romney, that Gingrich’s plan is "a new doorway to amnesty." Romney’s comment implied that there was something new about Gingrich’s plan rather than being the same amnesty policies of the past. The ad, on the other hand, loses that nuance. So we rate its claim Half True.