Gingrich, Romney blast immigration plan at Ga. GOP Convention
SOURCE: The Associated Press
By Greg Bluestein
Posted: Saturday, May 19, 2007
Truett Scales, left, and Joan Scales, center, greet former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as he arrives for the Georgia State Republican Party Convention at the Gwinnett Civic Center on Friday, May 18, 2007, in Gwinnett, Ga. ——— AP Photo / The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jenni Girtman
DULUTH, Ga. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and potential candidate Newt Gingrich used the Georgia Republican Convention as a staging ground Friday to air complaints about a Senate compromise on immigration reform.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said the compromise is flawed because it makes it too easy for illegal immigrants to continue to live in this country, while former U.S. House Speaker Gingrich called the plan a citizenship "giveaway."
"These inherited bureaucracies do not work," said Gingrich, who has toyed with the idea of running for the Republican presidential nomination.
He slammed the federal government's inability to track the nation's illegal immigrants _ believed to number between 11 million and 13 million _ and quipped that shipping companies would do a better job.
"Allocate $200 million to send a package to every person who's here illegally," he said. "When UPS and FedEx deliver them, we'll know exactly where they are."
Romney said the immigration plan unveiled Thursday "has some positive features" but shouldn't include a renewable visa that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely.
"That in my opinion is a form of amnesty," Romney said. "It would suggest the president, the House and the Senate need to come together to reconsider this incredible gift to those who are here illegally."
The convention's organizers barred presidential candidates from speaking, though Romney met with lawmakers, supporters and media. Gingrich was able to take the stage because he has yet to announce _ and throughout the 30-minute speech he continued to shrug off speculation that he might.
"I don't know what I'll be doing next year because all of my projects tend to be so long and so much work," joked Gingrich, who had just mentioned the two congressional races he lost before he was elected to a suburban Atlanta district in 1978.
Casting himself as the true conservative in a crowded Republican field, Romney said he believes voters in the South will be willing to support a former Northeastern governor because of stances like his opposition to abortion and gay marriage and support of lower taxes and a strong military.
"Those values and those conservative perspectives are the values that voters in the South share," he said.
He also downplayed the possibility that his Mormon faith would turn off Republican voters in the Bible Belt.
"I'm not running for pastor-in-chief; I'm running for a secular position," Romney said.
"I don't think Americans anywhere choose their candidate based on what church you go to _ that's what they do in other places," like nations run by Islamic fundamentalists, he said.
But much of the attention of the operatives gathering at the convention was focused on the immigration plan introduced in the Senate a day earlier.
The legislation would allow illegal immigrants who arrived before Jan. 1, 2007 to remain in the U.S. on probationary status and renew four-year visas. They could eventually get a green card, which could take at least eight years. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries first.
The plan, however, is only a first draft and will likely be changed multiple times before final passage. Some Democratic leaders and influential Republicans have blasted the measure, which must be approved by both congressional chambers and be signed by the president before becoming law.
Also on Friday, Romney held a fundraising lunch, which raised about $250,000 for his campaign, according to spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.