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Newt Gingrich Courts Latino Voters While Calling For English-Only Government

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WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich criticized his party for failing to reach out to Latino voters in an article published Sunday, part of a somewhat contradictory approach to courting Latino voters while he also calls for English to be the official language of the United States and opposes comprehensive immigration reform bills.

Gingrich told the Las Vegas Sun that "Republican incompetence" is to blame for the party losing the Latino vote, the paper reported on Sunday.

Gingrich has made a number of appeals to Latino voters, such as founding TheAmericano.com in 2009 to expand Republican outreach to Latinos. Gingrich's campaign also runs a Spanish-language Twitter account, which mostly links to his Spanish-language campaign website. In one post on the website, the campaign writes that there is no contradiction between his thinking on English-mandated government and his use of Spanish-language social networks to reach out to voters.

His immigration policies are more pro-reform -- a stance Latinos largely support -- than the other Republican presidential candidates, although Gingrich does not discuss his position much in debates. Beyond supporting reform of the visa system, Gingrich has said "common sense" should be applied to deportation policy.

"We are not going to deport 11 million people," Gingrich said at a December forum on Latino issues. "There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty."

But at the same time, Gingrich has taken a similar approach to other GOP candidates on immigration in the Republican debates, sticking to a message that involves securing the border first and reforming the immigration system later.

Most Latinos -- 61 percent -- oppose building more fences on U.S. borders, according to a poll on Latino issues from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Gingrich has repeatedly said during debates that he wants to make English the official language of the United States, which could hurt Latino graduation rates, according to a 2010 poll by the Associated Press and Univision, in connection with Stanford University:

The findings also raise questions about whether English-immersion does more to assimilate or isolate -- a heated debate that has divided states, academics and even the U.S. Supreme Court. Arizona recently ordered its schools to remove teachers with heavy foreign accents from English-language instruction, while the Obama administration is seeking to push more multilingual teaching in K-12 classrooms.

"The language barrier is still a serious risk factor for Hispanics," said Michael Kirst, a Stanford University professor emeritus of education who helped analyze the survey. Even with many schools replacing Spanish with English in classrooms, for a student evaluated as learning English, "the odds of completing high school, and particularly college, significantly drops."

Gingrich's campaign website makes little mention of his more pro-immigrant stances, other than a few instances in press releases stating a desire to reform the visa system. His website's "Solutions" section has only one mention of immigration issues, saying Gingrich will "[s]ecure the border to prevent terrorist organizations from sneaking agents and weapons into the United States." In press releases on the campaign site, he does not go into detail about his exact policy-changes.

Jimena Aguilar contributed reporting to this article.

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