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Did Newt Gingrich just flip-flop on immigration?

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Erik Kellar/AP

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich greets supporters with his wife, Callista, at the Naples Hilton in Naples, Fla., Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Gingrich was in the area to speak at a town hall meeting.

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Did Newt Gingrich just flip-flop on immigration?

During Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate, Gingrich got all compassionate-conservative on the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants – more compassionate than conservative, in fact, or so it seemed.

No talk of electrified fences or moats with alligators, as some of his Republican presidential rivals had offered. No promise to “shut down” the US-Mexico border the first day of his presidency (Rick Perry), or scary warnings that “terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico” (Herman Cain).

IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then

Yes, Gingrich said, if somebody has recently come into the United States illegally and “has no ties to this country” then “they ought to go home.” (Which sort of sounded like someone having a pang of conscience about being an outlaw immigrant and voluntarily returning to their village south of the border.)

But then Gingrich added something big enough to drive a truck full of illegals through a hole in the fence at San Diego – or so his critics quickly said.

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