Newt Gingrich is probably not going to be the Republican nominee, though it is looking like it will come down to a Newt v. Mitt contest. The Newtster has earned that much. He is some hot water right now for daring to depart from conventional conservative wisdom on immigration. From MSNBC:
"I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally," Gingrich told the crowd of roughly 750 people, many of whom were forced to stand in the hallway. "But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart."
That puts Newt rather squarely on the side of amnesty, whatever he wants to call it. It is a position that is very unpopular with conservatives and almost as unpopular among Americans generally.
It is also part of any viable solution to the immigration problem. We just aren't going to expel eleven million people from the U.S. So we either let them remain here illegally (which is almost surely what we will do) or work out some path to citizenship (which is what we should do).
There are two problems with any amnesty proposal. One, and the more serious one, is that it rewards scofflaws. The other is that amnesty will encourage would be scofflaws to think that the same will eventually be offered to them. Given our past failure to manage the problem, there is no practical solution to the first problem. As for the second, amnesty would have to be part of a "comprehensive" strategy that would include effective border control.
Border control has to come first. One good reason that many Americans oppose amnesty is because they don't believe that government is or will ever be serious about controlling the border. They think, with good reason, that amnesty will be real but border control will always be something that is promised but never quite happens. This is part and parcel of the general loss of confidence in government. Why aren't Tea Party people willing to accept tax increases in exchange for spending cuts? Because they think that the former will be real and now, and the latter will be deferred until never. They think that because that is what always happens.
Gingrich shouldn't back off. It's too late now anyway. He doesn't have to present a complete proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, but he does need to lay out the lines of one. If he can show a plausible path out of our present mess, it strengthens his case as a candidate in the general election. If President Gingrich, or some other president could work out an honest and effective solution, it would help to restore our confidence in our political system.