VIDEO/PHOTOS: Gingrich clarifies position on immigration, border control during packed Naples stop

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Newt Gingrich addresses the crowd at the Naples Hilton on Friday Nov. 25, 2011.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Newt Gingrich addresses the crowd at the Naples Hilton on Friday Nov. 25, 2011.

Newt Gingrich speaks in Naples

He clarifies position on immigration.

Hilton Naples

5111 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, FL

Newt Gingrich, speaking before a sympathetic crowd of hundreds in Naples Friday, sought to reclaim his message on immigration less than a week after calling for “humane” treatment of some illegal immigrants.

The comments, made on a nationally televised CNN debate Tuesday, swiftly drew condemnation from hard-line conservatives and fellow presidential candidates who favor strong treatment of those living here illegally. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann called him the “most liberal” GOP candidate on immigration.

But Friday night, before answering questions from among roughly 800 Southwest Florida supporters, Gingrich rebutted accusations and downplayed the possibility his debate comments could derail his surging campaign.

“Some of my friends thought they would articulate alternative versions of what I said that weren’t exactly what I said,” Gingrich said.

It was Gingrich’s first visit to Naples since announcing his candidacy in March. Previously scheduled to be held in the Naples Daily News community room, his campaign switched the venue two days ago to the Hilton Naples on U.S. 41 to accommodate a larger than expected crowd.

More than 100 people stood against the walls and scores more crammed into the lobby. There was no visible or vocal opposition to the former speaker of the House.

Naples is among the most conservative parts of the state, and local residents have poured vast amounts of money into Republican primary campaigns. With such a large contingent of conservative voters, political strategists say the area will carry added clout in Florida’s Jan. 31 presidential preference election.

More than once, Gingrich said Florida will be vital to winning the White House. Earlier this year, his exploratory committee visited West Palm Beach, but much of his time has been devoted to Iowa and South Carolina — two of the three states that will cast votes for the Republican presidential nominee before Florida.

After signing books, Gingrich was scheduled to attend a $1,000-ticket fundraiser hosted by the father of Naples City Councilman Sam Saad III.

While Gingrich worked Friday night to control his message on immigration in opening and closing remarks, the supportive audience seemed little interested, devoting many of their questions to foreign policy and jobs. During the town-hall-style meeting, they asked whether he would save the indebted U.S. Postal Service and how he would help Israeli allies.

He vowed to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and offered support, but no guarantee, for the Postal Service. Gingrich, meanwhile, turned much of his attention to bashing Obama administration policies and detailed plans to scale back the size of the federal government.

Often, his comments drew raucous applause.

After saying he would challenge President Barack Obama to seven debates with no moderator, Gingrich said “If he wants to use the teleprompter that would be fine with me because we have to be fair.”

The crowd was similarly agreeable to his attempts to clarify his immigration stance.

“I think this did a good job of clearing up what his position is,” said Peter Watson, a member of the West Charlotte County Republican Executive Committee. “I think it was misconstrued, and that was expected as soon as he became the frontrunner.”

Gingrich began to rise in national polls earlier this month. Recently he has topped rival Mitt Romney in some polls. However, the former Massachusetts governor remains on the shortlist of GOP frontrunners.

On Tuesday, Gingrich’s campaigned threatened to nosedive when he said “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 that have been here a quarter-century.”

Romney and Bachmann swiftly pounced during the debate, and continued their jabs throughout the week with Romney equating his immigration approach to amnesty for those who enter the country illegally. Bachmann told PBS Newshour that Gingrich “probably has the most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates in the race.”

“I am not supporting amnesty for 11 million people,” Gingrich said Friday night to more applause.

Rather, Gingrich outlined his immigration policy, which includes securing the borders, instituting English as the official language and creating an easier path to obtaining a visa.

Illegal immigrants who break the law or pose a threat, such as members of gangs, should be deported immediately, he said. But, repeating remarks from Tuesday, Gingrich offered a chance to remain in the country for undocumented aliens who have been living in the U.S. for 25 years, pay taxes and have deep family and community ties.

To discriminate between the two kinds of immigrants, Gingrich proposed letting local “juries” decide who qualifies.

“I think the vast majority should go home and will go home and reapply,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich encouraged the audience to help quash claims that he supports amnesty. To many in the audience, his answer was acceptable.

“Clearly, a lot of people were under the impression that he favored a pathway toward amnesty,” said Barry Willoughby, founder of the Naples Tea Party group. “After listening to him further refine what he said during the debate, I think he clarified it for myself, (and he) clarified it to the degree that I think he’s genuine.”

Gingrich is slated to hold an 11 a.m. book signing on Saturday at Books-A-Million, 9100 Strada Place. The book signing is free and open to the public.

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Comments » 3

davefrancis writes:

THE TEA PARTY IS NOT FOR ANY AMNESTY.

Because the concern of illegal immigration is just simmering under the surface, doesn't mean this occupation of our sovereign nation is going away. The financial sink hole has opened once again through former speaker Newt Gingrich revelation that people who have settled in America and stayed out of trouble for 25 years, should be allowed to remain here; even with the clause that they can never receive a path to citizenship. They might have entered initially through an airport terminal as an estimated 42 % percent of overstays have done, or the other proportion who just slipped in the night across the border. Carefully conceived by numerous administrations, was to make illegal entry just a minor crime; like jay walking and not even substantiated as a criminal offense. Very well maneuvered plan and so carefully manipulated by the politicians just to make it look like the government are obeying the people, the enforcement laws.

But the truth as millions of Americans see it, that it was a bluff, a lie; just plain hypocritical words meaning nothing and that the 'Rule of our Law' on illegal immigration enforcement was never meant to work? That why this country has an estimated 20 million foreign nationals here, which of a large preponderance lives of taxpayers. Even if Gingrich did become President, how is he going to process those who are supposedly here for a quarter of a century? Then there is the problem of those who stole Social Security numbers of citizens or legal resident’s children and the dead. Surely this should judge as a FELONY? Or is Newt Gingrich going to take the wrongful path of President Obama's presidential predilection is to permit certain foreign nationals to stay; this isn’t going down well with the hard working Border Patrol or taxpayers.

Gingrich will have major problems in his electoral race on the fact, that these illegal migrants violated the law not once, but in a substantial number of cases, twice over. This is certainly happened after the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act. It was Massive fraud on a grand scale in that Amnesty bill. The processing procedure was so overwhelming; the administration neither completed the investigations and background checks rushing illegal the path to citizen through. But the real fraud was in the initial paperwork, as millions of phony documentation, which showed that they had lived in the United States for five years. The cost for the processing of all these millions of people was estimated to be $700 million dollars.

davefrancis writes:

Today--as according to the Heritage Foundation, who has completed a thorough analysis of the cost, would be $2.6 trillion dollars. Fraudulent applications contaminated the process, many employers’ continuous illicit hiring practices, and illegal immigration gained thrust. The Center for Immigration Studies estimated the illegal immigrant population at 10 million as of November 2004, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 8.7 million illegal immigrants were here in 2000, and immigration officials estimate that the illegal immigrant population grows by as many as 500,000 every year.

Another Amnesty would be devastating to this country, as the millions of family members could be sponsored and placed on the conveyor belt, adding even more unfettered poverty. Eventually our social safety net would collapse, because of the untold millions would then gain legal access to every conceivable entitlement program. The total fiscal deficit on all direct and indirect costs is for the decade not including the costs of the blanket amnesty itself, was $78.7 billion.

The TEA PARTY will never be approving of another Amnesty, no matter what the policymakers say and do? The government cannot be trusted, as they have proven their dishonest deception time and time again. The costs in entitlement programs to illegal aliens and their children such as retirement, pensions, food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC,) Medicaid, housing and every other free extra will be visited on miserable taxpayers are far beyond what taxpayers should be forced to pay by the courts in unfunded mandates. The TEA PARTY is not just about stopping illegal immigration Amnesty, but halting the further encroachment of the distended government on citizen’s lives. It is a guardian of our Constitution from Liberal Extremists, trashing and drafting a new tax code that is fair to everybody, with no exemptions to any company or any other entity.

NobodysFool57 writes:

Newtie is a world-class anal sphincter muscle. He recently called child labor laws "s-----", and said school custodians should be fired and replaced by students. Remember when your Dad "brought home the bacon?". The introduction of women into the workforce diluted the labor pool and helped keep wages down. Now they're trying to do it again, with kids. For as long as Newt's been basically unemployed, this looks like a "Hail Mary" on his part.

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