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U.S. Rep. David Rivera broke ranks with his South Florida GOP House members and is pushing for Newt Gingrich.
Rivera is touting the former House Speaker's nuanced approach to immigration reform and his detailed plan to step up pressure on the Cuban government.
While most of the GOP candidates said undocumented immigrants should not be given a chance to legalize, Gingrich, a former House speaker, expressed support for allow people who have lived in the United States a long time and stayed out of trouble with police a chance to legally stay and work in the country.
"If you've been here 25 years,” Gingrich said, “and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
Late last week, Rivera accompanied Gingrich as the former House Speaker pressed the flesh at Miami's Versailles Restaurant and spoke with Spanish language media. Rivera is the only one of the three South Florida Cuban-American GOP House members not to have endorsed Mitt Romney.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and the current front-runner among the GOP presidential contenders, has taken a hard line on illegal immigration. He says he does not support a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, considering it “amnesty” and an invitation for more people to live in the United States illegally.
Romney has won the endorsements of Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Republican, has held off on endorsing any of the GOP candidates.
"I don't agree with Gov. Romney's position on immigration, but I agree with him solidly on the economy and for me, that's the driving force in this election," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Florida is scheduled to hold its primary on Jan. 31.
Gingrich has made high-profile overtures to Latinos, establishing a Spanish-language online forum and addressing Latinos in Spanish – an objective behind his decision to take Spanish-language classes.
Romney’s overtures have been decidedly minimal, and low-profile. Last week Romney launched Spanish-language a television advertisement in which his son, speaking flawless Spanish, touted his father’s dedication to the American Dream. At the end, Romney says in Spanish that he approved the advertisement.
Rivera is a skillful politician, especially when it comes to the influential Cuban-American community. He won his congressional seat in 2010 in part thanks to strong support from Cuban-American, absentee voters.
Rivera also comes with baggage. He is facing federal and state criminal probes into his finances.
On Monday, Gingrich also scooped up the endorsement of Latino Republican group Somos Republicanos, which is based in Texas.
The organization said that Romney "takes a non-humanitarian approach to the DREAM Act and legal immigration reform,” and vowed to "veto Romney at the polls."
But Gingrich has had his share of tense moments with Latinos over hard line positions he’s taken on various aspects of immigration policy and his support for making English the official language of the U.S. government.
Television commentator and syndicated columnist Miguel Perez said Gingrich’s apparent benevolent stance on immigration in fact creates “a permanent underclass of American residents.”
In a column entitled “With Amigos Like Gingrich, Who Needs Enemigos?” Perez asked: “Who does Gingrich think he is fooling?”
In a conference call Monday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) used the word "appalling" to describe Romney's alliance with Kobach, "the dark lord of the anti-immigration movement."
"But boy does it make it crystal clear to Latino voters what is at stake in this election. Mitt Romney can surround himself with all the Cuban Republicans in the world - and he will be doing exactly that in Florida - but the stink of the anti-immigrant positions he is taking will not rub off," the lawmaker said.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org