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Gingrich mocks Romney's 'self-deportation' solution to illegal immigration, Romney swings back

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 2:50 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, left, speaks as Mitt Romney, listens during the CBS News/National Journal foreign policy debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena, in Spartanburg, S.C.

Richard Shiro, Associated Press

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Though polls indicate former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is out of favor with Latino voters, the presidential hopeful is confident he'll win the demographic over, he said in an interview on Spanish-language television Wednesday.

"I have a hunch by this fall we may do better than any Republican except maybe Reagan," Gingrich told anchor Jorge Ramos during an interview with Univision Wednesday morning.

Based on a Univision poll released Wednesday, though, only 24 percent of Latinos across the country view Gingrich favorably. By comparison, 28 percent view Mitt Romney favorably and 72 percent like President Barack Obama. When asked which candidate they would vote for in the Republican primary election, 25 percent of Latino voters picked Romney, 16 percent chose Gingrich, 9 percent selected Ron Paul and 4 percent said Rick Santorum.

Gingrich slammed Romney for having a lack of concern for illegal immigrants' "humanity" during the Univision interview, The Wall Street Journal reported. He called Romney's suggestion that undocumented immigrants would "self-deport" back to their home countries if job opportunities dried up a "fantasy."

In an interview later in the day with Univision, Romney accused Gingrich of pandering to Latino voters.

"The speaker supports self-deportation," he said. "Unfortunately for him these are things he's already spoken about and he's spoken about them in favor. I recognize that it's very tempting to come out to an audience like this and pander to the audience and say what you hope the audience will want to hear. But frankly I think that's unbecoming of a presidential candidate and I think that was a mistake on his part."

Gingrich's campaign has been running ads in Florida that accuse Romney of being "anti-immigrant," but after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke out against the ads Wednesday, Gingrich's campaign agreed to take them off the air, according to the Miami Herald.

"This kind of language is more than just unfortunate," Rubio said. "It's inaccurate, inflammatory and doesn't belong in this campaign. The truth is that neither of these two men is anti-immigrant. Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community."

In the past, Gingrich has said he believes undocumented immigrants who have come to the country recently and have no ties to the country should be deported but takes a softer stance toward people who have been living and working in the United States for an extended period of time.

"If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grand kids, 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," he said.

During Monday's GOP debate, when Romney was asked what he planned to do to about the approximately 12 million undocumented residents in the United States he answered, "The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here."

Gingrich wasn't the only one to bash on Romney for his "self-deportation" comment. The phrase elicited giggles from the audience and stirred up a flurry of debate on the Internet.

"Our understanding of the word, 'deportation' ... is the immigrant doesn't quite have a choice in the matter," wrote the Huffington Post's Cristina Costantini. "Because to deport oneself would not be deportation at all, it seems maybe the word Romney was looking for was 'to emigrate,' 'to return' or 'to leave.' But Romney's not messing with those fancy dictionary words."

Romney's stance, though, which is more commonly referred to as attrition through enforcement, is a concept those in favor of tighter enforcement of immigration laws have supported for years. This idea was the basis for state laws like Arizona's SB1070, which makes life more inconvenient for illegal immigrants by ramping up enforcement and cutting back on benefits. Romney has said he would veto a bill that would grant citizenship to undocumented residents who graduate from college and is in favor of making it easier for skilled foreign workers to immigrate legally.

"I like legal immigration," he said in August. "But we have to secure our border and crack down on those that bring folks here and hire here illegally.

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com TWITTER: elizMstuart

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