Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's immigration policy has come under attack from some rival GOP candidates.

Story highlights

Newt Gingrich says more than 7 million illegal immigrants would leave under his policy

The GOP presidential hopeful's immigration policy has been attacked by conservatives

Citizen panels would assess which illegal immigrants were eligible to stay

Only those sponsored by American families could qualify, Gingrich says

Washington CNN  — 

Newt Gingrich insisted Sunday that some illegal immigrants who have become full community members should be able to stay in the country, but he added that his policy would require 7 million or more to go back to their home nations before having a chance to return.

Appearing on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” the front-running Republican presidential hopeful repeated his call for some kind of citizen review board to assess whether illegal immigrants would be eligible to get a residency permit and stay in America.

Gingrich, a former House Speaker, said the American people would not tolerate the forced removal of someone who has lived in their community for 25 years, has children and grandchildren, and belongs to a local church.

However, Gingrich said he expected about 1 million of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to qualify under the review board process to remain in the country, adding that they would have to be sponsored by an American family.

The rest would have to leave, Gingrich said.

“My guess is that 7 or 8 or 9 million would ultimately go home to get a guest or worker permit and return under the law,” Gingrich said.

His immigration policy has come under attack from some rival candidates who call it a form of amnesty – a virtual dirty word for the conservative tea party movement.