CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told a South Carolina town hall on Monday that as president he would block federal funds to any city that “declared itself a sanctuary” for illegal immigrants.
Gingrich, fresh from a key endorsement from an influential New Hampshire newspaper, is on a three-day swing through South Carolina, an early primary state that his campaign has dubbed his “southern firewall.”
“No American president has the right to side with foreigners,” Gingrich told a crowd of hundreds at the College of Charleston, after reciting a list of 16 countries that he said had filed friend of the court briefs in a Justice Department lawsuit against South Carolina’s new immigration law.
The law, which goes into effect on January 1 barring an injunction from a federal court, requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or detain for another reason and makes it a felony to knowingly transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.
“In three years and eight months, we defeated fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. Today, we can’t build a (border) fence,” Gingrich said. “I would propose cutting off all federal funds to any city that declares itself a sanctuary city.”
He said that if UPS and FedEx could keep track of millions of packages a day, the federal government should be able to track illegal immigrants in the country.
But Gingrich added: “I don’t believe we’ll ever pass a bill which requires us to hunt down every single person” who has been in this country for some time illegally.
Gingrich also said he would favor a “very sophisticated, very clean” guest worker program.
“I think we should go back to the World War Two selective service model where local citizens are certified at a local level, where they actually know the person,” he said.
“If the person is a good citizen, has genuine ties to the United States, has genuine roots, they still don’t get amnesty, they still don’t get citizenship, they still don’t get the right to vote. They do get the legal right to be a resident.”
Immigrant workers are important in agricultural production in the South as in other U.S. regions, from field labor such as picking and tending fruits and vegetables to working in poultry plants and plant nurseries. They also are a heavy contributor to the manpower for construction crews.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan