Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his stance on immigration during a town hall in Naples, Florida on Friday.
"I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally," he said, according to The Hill.
"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."
The former House speaker broke with the rest of the GOP field on the issue of immigration during a debate last week, calling for a more "humane" immigration policy that allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.
"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 during the debate, broadcast on CNN Nov. 22.
"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. And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families."
Republican critics have been quick to pounce on Gingrich's comments.
"He probably has the most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates in the race," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said this week.
But, on Friday, Gingrich stressed that he would be anything but soft on immigration.
"I would have very, very stiff economic penalties for anyone who hires somebody who is not legally inside the system," Gingrich said. "I would be very tough."