In his comments about immigration in last night’s debate, Newt Gingrich played a card not often seen these days in GOP circles: the red card.
“The Krieble Foundation has [proposed] a very good ‘red card’ program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a path to citizenship,” Gingrich said. “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.”
The red-card policy, explains the Krieble Foundation’s Greg Walcher, “would allow private employment agencies to open offices in foreign countries, and would empower them to issue work permits in the form of smart cards.”
“The employment company would run the workers through background checks to make sure they’re not criminals, and then issue the smart card, which enables them to come and go across the border at will so long as they have a job,” Walcher adds. “In other words, it matches specific workers to specific jobs, and then gives them a card that encodes in it all the information that might be needed either by border guards or law enforcement or the employer.” As Gingrich noted, a red card does not grant a path to citizenship.
The red-card program is unrelated to a different immigration topic that Gingrich broached last night: allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Under the red-card program, illegal immigrants would have to leave before applying, and could return only if they found jobs. Gingrich said he is ready “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.”
Helen Krieble, the Krieble Foundation’s founder and president, explains that her interest in the topic began when she was trying to hire workers to tend her horses and had trouble finding legal employees. “I’ve never met an employer who wants to hire an illegal, and I’ve never met an illegal who wanted to be illegal, but there’s no way to fix it,” she remarks. Currently, the government issues only a small number of temporary-worker visas to low-skilled workers.
The red-card policy has gained some notable supporters over the years. In addition to Gingrich, conservative Indiana congressman Mike Pence has shown support, as have Freedomworks president and CEO Matt Kibbe and Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles executive director Alfonso Aguilar.
“This is a creative, conservative, free-market proposal on immigration, and I think Speaker Gingrich is right in embracing it,” says Aguilar, who was the chief of the U.S. office of citizenship in the George W. Bush administration. “I think that the debate sometimes is oversimplified — this is something Speaker Gingrich has said before as well. We’re kind of, as conservatives, forced to choose between ‘open borders’ and ‘deport everyone.’ Those two are unrealistic alternatives. As conservatives, we’re for the rule of the law, but we’re also for the free market.”