Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended remarks he made earlier this week about illegal immigration, saying Friday he is "not for amnesty" but does believe in a "path to legality" for those whose ties run deep in the U.S.
"I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally," Gingrich said at a Florida town hall event, according to The Hill. "But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties run so deeply in America that it would truly be a tragedy to try and rip their family apart."
The former House Speaker drew fire for his immigration stance at Tuesday's Republican debate when he said he was prepared to "take the heat" for asserting that the GOP should have a "humane" position on illegals who have been in the country for a long time.
"If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period," Gingrich said Tuesday. "If you've been here 25 years 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."
He added: "I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here a quarter-century. I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in enforcing the law."
Conservatives piled on those remarks, including GOP rival Michele Bachmann, who said Gingrich had the "most liberal position on illegal immigration" out of anyone in the race.
Gingrich described his comments Friday as "a little bit of an issue," according to ABC, and said he wanted to revisit them.
He suggested 25 years as the cut off point for families with deep roots in the country, and having the legalization process similar to draft panels used in World War II, leaving it up to the community to decide who is a good citizen and who should leave.
“It gets to be a matter of judgment. Is somebody really a part of the fabric of the community or are they are not? If they aren’t, they should go home,” Gingrich said.
He also vowed that if elected, he would make securing the border a priority and push to make English the official U.S. language. He said he would also establish a guest-worker program but would hit employers who hire illegals with heavy fines.
"I would have very, very stiff economic penalties for anyone who hires somebody who is not legally inside the system," Gingrich said.