Newt Gingrich took a fairly significant risk on Tuesday night, talking about his “red card” approach to immigration during a debate. “The party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century?” he said. “I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, ‘Let’s be humane in enforcing the law.’”

Try to imagine Mitt Romney telling Republicans what they don’t want to hear — on literally any subject — and saying, “I’m prepared to take the heat.” It’s hard to fathom, isn’t it?

In any case, as expected, Gingrich has been the target of significant pushback on this, and campaigning in Florida yesterday, the disgraced former House Speaker fleshed out what a “humane” policy might look like in a Gingrich administration.

“I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally,” Gingrich told the crowd of roughly 750 people, many of whom were forced to stand in the hallway. “But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart.” […]

Gingrich wants to model his immigration plan for illegals already in the country on the WWII model of the Selective Service System program, which allowed local communities to decide who would be drafted for war. He noted that the program “really tried to take general policy and give it a human face.”

“I think the vast majority [of illegal immigrants] will go home and should go home and then should reapply. I do not think anybody should be eligible for citizenship,” the former speaker said to loud applause in Southwest Florida with his wife, Callista, sitting in the front row of the audience. “I am suggesting a certification of legality with no right to vote and no right to become an American citizen unless they go home and apply through the regular procedures back home and get in line behind everybody else who has obeyed the law and stayed back there.”

Gingrich hasn’t walked back his position from Tuesday night, but these finer details clarify his position in ways that matter a great deal. In this case, a “humane” immigration policy would establish local community boards — who would sit on the panels is unclear — who would apparently scrutinize the lives of undocumented immigrants and their families, and determine who would and wouldn’t be allowed to legally stay in the country.

To put it mildly, this isn’t a good plan, and it’s not even close to “amnesty.”

On a related note, Romney’s team has been using this against Gingrich since Tuesday night, but Gingrich has been quick to remind folks of a 2007 interview in which Romney said undocumented immigrants currently in the United States should “be able to stay, sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.”

Of course, Romney has been through some metamorphoses since 2007.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.