Deal backs Gingrich despite split on immigration

By Shannon Mccaffrey

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 3:32 p.m. MST

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal remains supportive of Newt Gingrich's presidential bid but disagrees with the former House speaker on allowing some illegal immigrants to remain in the country.

"Gov. Deal would oppose any amnesty for those who have been in the country illegally, regardless of how long they have been here," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

In a GOP debate Tuesday night, Gingrich said illegal immigrants who've been in the country for decades and established deep family and community ties shouldn't automatically be kicked out of the country. The former Georgia congressman said they should be provided a pathway to legal status, but not citizenship.

Some conservatives have assailed Gingrich for being soft on the issue, while other Republicans have praised him for staking out a middle ground on what has been a polarizing and emotionally charged topic.

Deal was an early backer of Gingrich's White House bid. The two served together in the U.S. House from Georgia and Gingrich endorsed Deal at a critical point during last year's runoff for the Republican nomination for governor.

Deal is also known as a strong opponent of illegal immigration. While in Congress, he sponsored legislation that would have removed birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. As governor, he signed a tough immigration bill earlier this year that's considered one of the toughest in the nation.

Robinson said Deal remains supportive of Gingrich.

"No one is going to agree with someone else 100 percent of the time," Robinson said.

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Follow Shannon McCaffrey: www.twitter.com/smccaffrey13

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