Newt Gingrich showed in the Republican debate Tuesday night that he has a heart.
He supports allowing "millions" of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.
But his compassionate conservatism may spike his recent surge in the polls. He recognized this may not be a popular point of view.
"I don't see how the -- the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families," Gingrich said in the debate televised on CNN.
We saw that after Rick Perry explained his support of the DREAM Act in Texas he dropped in the polls and was attacked by fellow Republicans. But Perry's slide also can be explained but his overall poor debate performance.
Gingrich said that undocumented immigrants who have been here 25 years, have ties to the community and go to church should be allowed to stay.
"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them," Gingrich said.
These are sort of arbitrary guidelines but his main point is that people who have been here a long time with roots in the community should be allowed to stay.
But he also said something a bit confusing that he supports "legalization without citizenship."
So would he allow undocumented immigrants legal status and the ability to work but never allow them to become U.S. citizens?
It's not clear if what Gingrich is calling for is a type of permanent guest worker program or not. Under immigration law, a person who has a green card for five years can then apply to become a U.S. citizen.
After the debate Gingrich, told a CNN reporter that millions will stay and millions, who have no ties to the United States and have been here a short time, will have to go home.
Remember that Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty under President Ronald Reagan. And President George W. Bush also supported a legalization program but he failed to get anything passed as president.
Gingrich also said he supports part of the federal DREAM Act to create a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and complete two years of college or military service.
"I don't see any reason to punish somebody who came here at three years of age, but who wants to serve the United States of America," Gingrich said.
Gingrich did a better job than Perry of explaining his moderate views on immigration.
As expected Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney said they are against amnesty. Romney called it a "magnet" that encourages more undocumented immigrants.
Romney said he favors skilled immigrants who come here legally. But this ignores the fact that under existing immigration policy it is impossible for many immigrants to gain legal status.
The debate is a reminder that all Republicans are not inherently anti-immigrant.
Still, Gingrich said after the debate that he supports securing the border and English as the official language of the United States.
Gingrich understands that anybody who runs for president needs to get as many Latino voters as possible. So he's showing that he is a moderate on immigration.
I don't think that will win him Latino voters who aren't likely to trust his message. And it could cost him some Republican voters too.
Also listen to my radio interview on Vocalo on immigration and the Republican debate.