Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich continued to face criticism from his opponent, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann, even as he stood by his “humane” stance on immigration policy.
Calling Gingrich “the most liberal GOP candidate on the issue of immigration reform” in a statement, Bachmann released a letter Saturday that the former Speaker of the House had co-signed in 2004 supporting then President George W. Bush’s immigration initiative.
Gingrich, a frontrunner according to recent polls, “has a long history of supporting amnesty and that’s not something that people in Iowa are supporting,” Bachmann told reporters at a book launch event in Des Moines weeks before the Iowa Caucus.
The letter Bachmann released carried a proposal for a guest-worker program seeking to allow undocumented workers having jobs to apply for special status to get employee benefits and to enter and exit the country.
A day earlier, Gingrich defended the stance he took at Tuesday’s CNN Republican National Security Debate, where he said, “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.”
“I am not for amnesty for 11 million people,” CNN quoted Gingrich as saying Friday at an event in Naples, Fla. “I’m actually not for amnesty for anyone. I’m not for a path to citizenship for any people who are out here illegally. 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.”
Gingrich assured that he would have “very, very stiff economic penalties for anyone who hires somebody who is not legally inside the system … I would be very tough.” He said his words at the debate had been twisted.
But Bachmann says he offered a “type of amnesty” that would encourage illegal immigration. “You don’t come into this country illegally and get a special pathway to stay here.”
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond responded to Bachmann’s accusation, telling NBC, “Either Michele Bachmann can’t get her facts straight on understanding immigration reform, or she is intentionally lying.”
On Wednesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also called Gingrich’s proposal “amnesty.”
“How about someone who has been here 20 years? How about 12 years? How about 10? 5? 3?” he was quoted as saying.
Last week’s national poll by Quinnipiac University shows that Gingrich is the preferred nominee of 26 percent of Republican voters, with Romney second at 22 percent.
Gingrich pointed out that in an interview in 2007, Romney said longtime illegal immigrants should be allowed “to stay, sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.” Romney’s campaign denied it, saying in the same interview he also said, “But they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally.”
However, Gingrich received support from his old foe President Bill Clinton. “I watched the national security debate last night. And Newt said two things that would make an independent voter say, ‘Well, I gotta consider that,’ Clinton told Newsmax in an interview. He said Gingrich’s proposal “sort of splits the difference between the immigration reforms proposed by President Bush and President Obama, which would give a path to citizenship, and would be a version of what President Reagan did.”