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Gingrich backs portion of Dream Act

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ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Newt Gingrich on Friday backed at least a portion of the Dream Act, saying that he would grant a path to citizenship to illegal immigrant youths who agree to sign up and serve in the U.S. military.

That's a much tighter standard than the full Dream Act, which President Obama wants. That legislation would allow legal status and an eventual path to citizenship for children and young adults who join the military, but would also apply to those who go to college — a much broader class of people.

"I am opposed to anybody who came here illegally getting citizenship. That's entirely wrong," the GOP presidential candidate and former House speaker told a young man who asked about illegal immigrant students. "The only exception I would make is if young people, the ones you are dealing with, are willing to join the American military and serve the United States."

Speaking a day before South Carolina's GOP primary, Mr. Gingrich said that would put them on par with any other foreign-born legal resident who joins the U.S. military, and who under the law has a path to citizenship.

Mr. Gingrich's stance puts him in between Mr. Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney, who has said he would veto the Dream Act. Mr. Romney told The Washington Times earlier this month he couldn't think of any exceptions he would allow, except possibly in cases of asylum or where Cubans are involved — both situations already covered under special laws.

Mr. Gingrich has come under fire for his stance that longtime illegal immigrants be given some form of legal status.

He has proposed setting up local boards to judge whether illegal immigrants meet his criteria: having been in the country for 25 years, having paid their bills, and having obtained sponsorship of an American family.

But he said Friday his policy does not include a path to citizenship. If those long-time illegal immigrants want to become citizens, they would have to return home and apply from those countries, going through the same steps as any other person from there.

"This system is doable. I think we can actually pass this system," he said.

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