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Windham, N.H. • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the concept of a border fence "repulses" him, but he believes that it is a necessity for the United States to get a handle on its illegal immigration problem.

At the same time, he calls it unrealistic to believe the millions of undocumented people already here can be deported.

"I hate the thought of a fence on the border. I mean, for me, as an American, the thought of a fence to some extent repulses me, because it is not consistent with … the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world," Huntsman said during a town hall meeting here Saturday evening.

"But the situation is such today that I don't think we have a choice, and before we begin the conversation of processing 11 or 12 million undocumented workers, we've got to secure the border," he said.

Huntsman said border security will require the use of a physical fence, as well as technology. Once the governors of the four southern border states attest that the flow of people across the border has been stanched, he envisions a way for those here to gain legal residence.

"There's got to be an alternative rather than sending people back. That's unrealistic," he said.

Huntsman has long supported such a route to citizenship, from the days he was governor of Utah, although some conservatives consider such a plan amnesty.

Several polls over the past year have shown Americans are either relatively evenly split on the issue or oppose a means for undocumented immigrants to gain legal residency.