A large crowd turned out Friday night for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s town hall meeting in Naples, Fla., as Gingrich defended his stance on immigration.
The event was originally scheduled to take place at a venue that held 150 people and was moved to a location that cold hold 450. When Gingrich showed up, the room was standing room only, with another 200 standing outside in the hall.
Gingrich told the crowd he wanted to revisit comments that were “a little bit of an issue” when he said during a CNN debate on Tuesday that he would not remove all illegal immigrants in the U.S.
“I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them,” Gingrich said Tuesday.
Michele Bachmann responded to Gingrich saying his stance was in fact amnesty, and said Gingrich was in favor of giving amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants.
Gingrich addressed the immigration issue to the Friday night crowd.
“Some of my friends decided they would articulate alternative versions of what I said, which wasn’t what I said, but that’s partially the nature of politics,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich went on to ensure the crowd he was not for amnesty for 11 million people, but would be for a legalization method for families who already had deep roots in the country. Gingrich suggested that 25 years would be the cut off point.
The legalization process would be similar to draft panels in World War II, in which the community decided who would be drafted. Gingrich said it would be up to the community to decide who was 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.
Gingrich also said that this process would only take place after the border was secure and there were no more people coming into the country illegally. He said he would secure the border by Jan. 1, 2014.
The crowd was more responsive with applause to Gingrich saying that most of the 11 million should go home.
Afterward, Gingrich said he thought he got the message across to the crowd.
“I thought when they applauded at the end when I asked them to make sure if anybody goes around saying I’m for amnesty they can say they saw me and it’s not true. I thought that was a pretty encouraging sign that we’ve gotten the message we wanted to,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich told ABC News he does not expect a fallout of supporters over the issue and it was a different situation than Rick Perry’s comments because it was “two totally different comments.”
“I expect there will be a brief flurry because several of my friends were explicitly distorting what I said, even though they knew better. So I think it takes a few days to clarify that in fact what they were saying wasn’t true. When people relax and realize what I did say, I’ve been saying this for three months,” Gingrich said.
He also pointed to the Republican debate in September in which Michele Bachmann agreed with his stance on immigration.
“I think most of them actually agreed with me if you go back and look at the transcript so it was kind of funny the other night. I think when you get to be the front runner, people who ignored you or didn’t think about it suddenly get very anxiety ridden and look for a clever way to pick a fight,” Gingrich said.
Bachmann said the amount of time immigrants lived in the U.S. should be taken into account in the debate in September
“It is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place,” Bachmann said. “But one thing that we do know, our immigration law worked beautifully back in the 1950's, up until the early 1960's, when people had to demonstrate that they had money in their pocket, they had no contagious diseases, they weren’t a felon,” Bachmann said on Sept. 7.
Gingrich and his wife Callista will have a book signing today in Naples, Fla., before heading to South Carolina to campaign and fundraise.