Clinton: Gingrich stance on immigration ‘thoughtful,’ could win over independents

Under fire for his stance on immigration policy, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is receiving some support from an unlikely source.

In an interview with Newsmax, former President Bill Clinton said Gingrich's support for allowing illegal immigrant families without criminal records to stay in the U.S. could boost his standing with independent voters.

"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," said Clinton in the interview.

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“He said, ‘OK, I don’t want to legitimize immigrants who came here undocumented, illegally.’ On the other hand, a lot of those people have been here for years, they worked hard, they paid taxes, they’ve got kids in the schools, they’re not criminals, we’re going to have a hard time sending them all home, there’s millions of them," Clinton said. "So, I’d like to have a process where they could be here legally but not have a path to citizenship."

Clinton praised Gingrich's response, saying it "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.”

The former president added that Gingrich's "red card" immigration plan which would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants with jobs but would not automatically place them on a track to receive citizenship was a "thoughtful response."

Clinton credited Gingrich's performance in the GOP debates for his resurgence in the presidential race. "I think he’s doing well just because he’s thinking, and people are hungry for ideas that make some sense," said Clinton.

Gingrich has jumped ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to the top of numerous national polls after a series of strong debate performances. On Sunday, Gingrich also gained the key endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board. However, most polls show him trailing Romney by double digits in the Granite State's first in the nation primary.

His comments on immigration reform in last Tuesday’s GOP debate though have brought him criticism from anti-illegal immigration groups, many of whom have described his plan as a form of amnesty.

Gingrich said that he supported efforts to allow tax-paying illegal immigrants without criminal records to remain in the country.

“If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period,” Gingrich 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.”

Iowa congressman Steve King (R) however criticized the comments saying they appeared to be a “form of amnesty” Presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) blasted Gingrich’s stance, saying that he had the “most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates in the race.”