NAPLES, Fla. -- Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pushed back against opponents who accused him him of supporting "amnesty" for illegal immigrants based on comments he made at a recent debate in Washington, DC, on immigration reform.
Gingrich fielded criticism this week after arguing that some illegal immigrants with close ties to their community should not be deported.
"Several of my friends were explicitly distorting what I said, even though they knew better," Gingrich said at a campaign stop in Naples, Fla., on Friday. "So I think it takes a few days to clarify that in fact what they are saying isn't true."
Under Gingrich's plan, which he has articulated before, the federal government would establish a system of local boards to determine whether illegal immigrants could be permitted to remain in the United States based on their ties to the community.
"I propose that we take the World War II model of the selective service program," Gingrich said. "In World War II, local community citizens judged who ought to be drafted and who shouldn't . . . . It requires trusting citizens rather than bureaucrats. It's a jury system for local communities."
Gingrich added that he thought that immigrants eligible to stay should have spent at least 25 years in the country, have close ties to a community and a family, but predicted that most would voluntarily leave.
"I think the vast majority will go home," he said. "They should go home and they should reapply. I don't think [they] should be eligible for citizenship."
On Gingrich's website, the campaign posted a plan that outlined several steps that would need to be taken before implementing the local board plan: Secure the border by January 1, 2014; make it easier to deport people; set up a guest-worker program; streamline the visa process; make English the official language of government, promote immigration among high-skilled foreign workers (especially those with skills in math and science); punish employers who hire illegal immigrants; require immigrants to take a comprehensive test on American history; and, finally, set up the boards to determine who can stay and who should leave.
"When you've gone through each of these steps . . . I do think we need to have an honest conversation about what we're going to do with the people who are already here," he said.
"I have a very clear position," Gingrich said. "I have not suggested amnesty for 11 million people . . . . I am for a path to legality for those people who's ties are so deeply into America and would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart."
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