Remember Pete Wilson? JD Hayworth? Tom Tancredo?

That’s what I thought.

These guys are a few of the politicians whose anti-immigrant agenda played a big part in the demise of their political fortunes.  And the list continues to grow.  Just ask former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, author of Arizona’s SB1070, the “show me your papers” law, who was thrown out of office last month by his own constituents.

So it comes as no big surprise that some of the most conservative voters in the country—Iowa caucus-goers—are, according to a report in NPR, “open to policies that help foreign-born young people educated in the U.S. to enter the workforce, as well as those that help companies hire seasonal and permanent employees for vacant jobs Americans are not filling.”  They also strongly support increasing opportunities for highly-skilled legal immigrants and entrepreneurs to come to the United States.

When you look at these numbers you begin to understand why GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich declared his support for a more humane immigration policy—one which includes a pathway to lawful compliance for the millions of undocumented foreign nationals in the US.

Unlike Mitt Romney, his chief rival for the nomination who continues to pander to the restrictionist fringe, Gingrich’s remarks on immigration have been deftly aimed at the centerist—dare I say more reasonable—Republican voters.  Gingrich understands that America’s economic and social future depends on an immigration policy which attracts the best and brightest to America’s shores and which includes a common sense, humane approach to bringing the scores of undocumented workers out of the shadows and into the sunshine of American life.  In a GOP primary that has offered little more than inane blabber about “amnesty”, “fences”, and “boots on the ground”, Gingrich offers a refreshing perspective.   Though his proposal is still very flawed, he is challenging his party and Republican voters to consider solutions to the nation’s immigration problems rather than pat sound bites.

How then does this explain the Rick Perry’s fall in the polls? Didn’t his moderate approach to immigration, including his support for instate tuition for undocumented immigrants, severely damage his presidential campaign?

No, not so much.

The collapse of Perry’s candidacy has more to do with his debate gaffes and other missteps, not his stance on immigration. Simply put, Perry lost his front runner status because he was not ready for prime time, not because of any one particular issue.

The Iowa poll shows that Americans—liberal, moderate, and conservative—overwhelmingly support a common sense approach to immigration.  This is consistent scores of other studies conducted by pollsters over the years.  American voters long for a modernized immigration system that will create jobs for American workers, protect American families, and restore American due process and fairness.

Politicians who choose to ignore this do so at their own peril.