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Gingrich doubles down on immigration policy at S.C. town hall

CHARLESTON, S.C. – While he doubled down on his belief that some illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S., Newt Gingrich sounded an otherwise hard tone on the issue at a town hall here.

Seeking to capitalize on his campaign’s newfound momentum, Gingrich told a packed house at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theater that he stands by his view that some illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country, a position for which he’s taken conservative heat since mentioning it at CNN’s foreign policy debate last week.

“Take someone who’s been here for 25 years. They’ve been obeying the law for 25 years, they’ve been paying taxes for 25 years, they’re married, they have 3 kids, 2 grandkids and belong to a church. Do you really think the American people are going to send a policeman to take that person away from their family? I don’t,” Gingrich said.

But he clarified that he thinks the number of immigrants that provision would affect is “relatively small.”

He also pushed back on claims from his opponents, most notably Michele Bachmann, that he supports amnesty for illegal immigrants (Bachmann said earlier this week that Gingrich has “a long history of supporting amnesty”).

“Several of my friends have said I'm for amnesty.  That's not true.  At least one of them has run around saying I want to have amnesty for 11 million people.  That's just totally false.  That's in fact an Obama level quality statement,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich took a hard line when outlining his overall immigration policy, saying he would cut off federal funds to any city that declares itself a “sanctuary city,” and that he would make deportation of illegal immigrants easier, especially if they have a history of criminal behavior.

When making that last point, Gingrich singled out one group, Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, a gang of mostly Salvadoran but also other Central and South American immigrants.

“If you are a member of MS-13, which is a very dangerous gang in over 190 cities, membership of that gang should be automatic evidence you should be deported,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich’s comments came just hours after his campaign released a statement from the candidate condemning the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against South Carolina’s newly passed immigration law. The department is blocking some provisions of the law that it says usurps federal authority.

He reiterated that statement during opening remarks at tonight’s town hall here, which was hosted by South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott.

“Instead of coming down here hat in hand to apologize for the absolute failure of the federal government, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina,” Gingrich said.