For all the stark differences between British and American political cultures (universal health care, anyone?), the two transatlantic societies have one thing in common: large majorities in both nations don't seem to be too enthusiastic about immigration. And in both the UK and the US, the public is demanding that politicians take drastic measures to cauterise the inflow of people.
Popular concerns about immigration are not unjustified: a high level of unskilled immigration does indeed strain welfare systems and depress wages of domestic low-skilled workers, particularly in times of economic trouble. However, the proposals being floated in both countries for reducing net immigration are completely unjustified and increasingly absurd. In Britain, such demands take the form of calls to leave the EU, which would disastrously curtail Britain's ability to trade with the rest of Europe and thus vastly outweigh any potential benefits of lower immigration
And in America, the proposal supported by many in the Republican Party is even worse: they advocate simply deporting the (estimated) 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. To call this impractical would be generous: it's hard enough to deport one person, let alone 11 million. But more importantly, it's inhumane. Deporting all of America's 'illegal aliens', even those with personal ties to the US and clean criminal records, would rip apart families, destroy communities, and completely desecrate the fundamental founding ideal of America- that the country should be a place where anyone, no matter their background, can move to and live happily as long as they're willing to work hard and enrich their communities. In many ways, it seems like illegal immigrants are the only ones who still believe in the 'American Dream', and it's unfortunate that they've been caught in a political system that doesn't recognize that.
Seen in this context, Newt Gingrich's recent comments on immigration are a breath of fresh air. While his Republican opponents in the Presidential race have been parroting the deportation talk, Gingrich argued in the Republican debate on 22 November that:
If you've been here 25 years, and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, 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.
Now don't get me wrong: in no way am I endorsing Newt Gingrich's candidacy. I'm a blue-blooded Democrat, and I think there are many good reasons to not vote for the man- from his childish behaviour as Speaker of the House in the mid-1990's to his utterly misguided economic policies today. But I do want to give praise where it is deserved. We live in the era of "Mission Accomplished" and "Drill, baby, drill, " and America has suffered enormously because its politicians would rather tell people what they want to hear rather than stake out a brave-yet-unpopular position on a complex issue. America desperately needs courageous politicians, especially on difficult issues like immigration, and -- just this once -- Newt Gingrich acted like one.