Fortunately, we have a written transcript from CNN, so we can read exactly what Gingrich said about the issue (scroll down about 3/4th of the way to find it on the transcript), as well as the follow-up exchange with Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry:
BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, let me let you broaden out this conversation. Back in the '80s -- and you remember this well. I was covering you then. Ronald Reagan and you -- you voted for legislation that had a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as you well remember. There were, what, maybe 12 million, 10 million -- 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now.
Some called it amnesty then; they still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were President of the United States, with these millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?
GINGRICH: Let me start and just say I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here.
GINGRICH: You know, about five blocks down the street, you'll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let's be clear how much the United States has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.
I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it -- and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3 million. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.
We got neither. So I think you've got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system -- once you've put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.
If you're here -- if you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. 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.
The Creeble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don't get a pass to citizenship. And so there's a way to ultimately end up with a country where there's no more illegality, but you haven't automatically given amnesty to anyone.
Gingrich's immigration proposals are spelled out HERE, and to his credit, he at least supports making English the official language of the United States.
But the CNN transcript also shows that Michelle Bachmann immediately disagreed with Gingrich, characterizing the DREAM Act as offering amnesty to at least 11 million illegals and further condemning it for offering illegals taxpayer-subsidized benefits. Bachmann subsequently issued a detailed press release chronicling Gingrich's previous expressions of support for amnesty. Mitt Romney also disagreed with Gingrich, characterizing amnesty as a magnet. Romney explained that allowing amnesty for long-term illegals will merely encourage more people to come here illegally.
Although Gingrich has since fired back, claiming that Romney supported amnesty for illegals in 2007, ALIPAC, which has established itself as the most vocal of the immigration reform lobbies, immediately flagged Gingrich's comments and predicted that the Gingrich campaign will implode in the same fashion as the Perry campaign did immediately following Perry's expressed support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants during a previous debate. CBS is not so pessimistic; while they agree that Gingrich's campaign could suffer, they believe it will take at least a week for the effects to become manifest. Furthermore, they believe that there are no other alternatives to Mitt Romney, once again minimizing or ignoring Ron Paul as so much of the big media have done.
Republican presidential candidates who promote amnesty for illegal immigrants will have a tough row to hoe, particularly in Utah, where the two leading Republican candidates for Utah's new Fourth Congressional District, Carl Wimmer and Stephen Sandstrom, are both outspoken opponents of amnesty.