Pushing back against the charge that he supports “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, Newt Gingrich outlined another immigration reform proposal that would have “citizen juries” to decide whether illegal immigrants are fit to be granted legal status—but not citizenship.

On the trail in Florida on Friday, Gingrich explained that he would grant “path to legality” to upstanding illegal immigrants with deep family ties who could prove they could support themselves without federal welfare or other benefit programs.


Gingrich elaborates on the proposal on his campaign Web site. Congress would define understandable, clear, objective, legal standards” for these citizen juries. Applicants would have to pass a criminal background check and prove their proficiency in English. Then, Gingrich writes, “the local committees will assess applications based on family and community ties, and ability to support oneself via employment without the assistance of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs.” Finally, applicants would have to prove able to pay for their own private health insurance, and if they proved unable to support themselves in the future, they would have their legal status revoked and would be deported.

Like Gingrich’s “Red Card” solution—a large-scale expansion of the guest-worker program—his “citizen review” juries are an attempt to bridge the gap in the immigration debate, offering more protections for illegal immigrants without extending them the full privileges of legal citizenship. But both proposals are also vulnerable to criticism from both sides. Gingrich’s citizen-jury system would create a massive new bureaucracy that take major resources to implement, even if private citizens, not bureaucrats, sat on the juries. It would necessarily privilege well-off immigrants who can subsist independent of the federal entitlement and welfare system. And it raises big questions about creating a class of “legalized” immigrants: would they receive any federal benefits at all, and would they still be required to pay full income taxes, even though they’re denied many government services?

That said, Gingrich is making it clear that he’s willing to push specific policy proposals to defend himself. And despite the political risks that he faces on the issue, Gingrich reiterated his views Friday in Florida, as Yahoo News notes. “I have not suggested amnesty for 11 million people,” he said. “I am for a path to legality for those people who’s ties are so deeply into America and would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart.”