The 17 Republican Presidential Hopefuls take the stage to face the voters for the first time this afternoon and evening in two separate rounds of debates. We'll be looking for more clarity from the Hopefuls on their positions on legal and illegal immigration and how the numbers impact American workers and their wages.
8:50 p.m. -- The prime-time debate is getting ready to start with the top 10 GOP candidates according to an average of most of the national polls. Tonight's group will likely discuss illegal immigration since this will be the first major public venue for Donald Trump. But unlike the "Happy Hour" debate where Rick Santorum was able to work in legal immigration in a few different places, this group is less likely to discuss annual numbers unless prompted by the moderators. The lineup includes: Real estate magnate Donald Trump, former FL Gov. Jeb Bush, WI Gov. Scott Walker, former AR Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, TX Sen. Ted Cruz, FL Sen. Marco Rubio, KY Sen. Rand Paul, NJ Gov. Chris Christie, and OH Gov. John Kasich.
DETAILS FOR THIS AFTERNOON'S DEBATE WITH THE OTHER SEVEN GOP HOPEFULS ARE BELOW
9:22 p.m. -- The second round of questions touches on immigration, and begins with Jeb Bush. FNC Moderator Chris Wallace brought up Jeb Bush's recent proposal to end illegal immigration, which is reflected on our Presidential Grade Cards and lifted his grade from a D+ to a C. But Bush was asked if he still supports "legal status" for illegal aliens, including work permits, and Bush said yes. This is obviously nothing new. Bush is one of only a handful of the 17 GOP Presidential Hopefuls that support legal status with work permits for illegal aliens without taking steps to stop illegal immigration first. We rate Bush ABYSMAL on amnesty.
Bush did say that it is the government's responsibility to decide who gets to come. He's said that he supports ending Chain Migration. But Bush hasn't said how many our government should let in and whether or not he believes that mass immigration impacts American workers and their wages.
9:24 p.m. -- Donald Trump is asked about his comments on immigrants from Mexico that he made during his campaign launch, which Bush called "ugly". Trump says we wouldn't even be discussing immigration if it weren't for him making those statements. Trump said, "We need to build a wall, and we need to build it quickly. I don't mind if that wall has a door, so people can come in legally."
Trump was asked what evidence he has that the Mexican government is sending criminals to the United States. Trump refers to his recent border trip where he was told by border agents that this is what is happening.
Trump's responses are typical of his entire campaign, especially when it comes to immigration. He throws out blanket statements, but doesn't provide any of the details. We rate Trump at a C+, but it's mostly based on his border statements.
9:30 p.m. -- Kasich is asked about illegal immigration, and instead he talks about everything but immigration. Eventually he says that the American people don't trust the leaders in Washington, and that's why they want the fence. We have much more on Kasich on his grade card.
9:32 p.m. -- Rubio is then asked about illegal immigration and his support for the Gang of Eight bill. After discussing his support for enforcement before amnesty, he brings up the fact that the number of legal immigrants that come into the country is 1 million per year. He says the American people feel like they're being taken advantage of, and he's right. Most polling shows that Americans want legal immigration levels reduced, but Rubio doesn't offer his position.
9:33 p.m. -- Walker is challenged on his flip-flop on amnesty. He supported amnesty several years ago, but has maintained an anti-amnesty positions since running for President.
"I listened to the American people. I listened to our border state governors. ... Secure the border, enforce the law, no amnesty, and go forward with a legal immigration system that gives priority to American working families and wages." -- Gov. Scott Walker
Like Santorum, Walker brings up how immigration impacts American working families and their wages. He's cautious not to talk about how he would reform legal immigration, but he does continue to oppose work permits for illegal aliens. Walker is our second highest rated, B-, GOP Hopeful for making the connection between immigration and American workers.
9:34 p.m. -- Cruz is asked if he will support Kate's Law that imposes mandatory sentences for illegal aliens who re-enter the United States and if he would support withholding funds for sanctuary cities. Cruz says that he introduced a bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a vote on it. Cruz says he opposes amnesty, but supports legal immigration and mentions how he fought against the Gang of Eight's amnesty bill.
10:19 p.m. -- NumbersUSA Ad in Presidential Debate Asks Candidates to Focus on the Numbers and One Million Legal Immigrants a Year -- Click here for more details.
5:00 p.m. -- The "Happy Hour Debate" starts with the Hopefuls that stand 11th through 17th in the average of the national polls. The list includes: former PA Senator Rick Santorum, former TX Governor Rick Perry, LA Governor Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett Packard head Carly Fiorina, SC Senator Lindsey Graham, former NY Governor George Pataki, and former VA Governor Jim Gilmore.
5:14 p.m. -- The first mention of immigration comes during a question about Donald Trump to Rick Perry. Perry refers to Trump's position on the border by saying that, as a governor, he secured the Texas border during last year's surge (see Perry's answer at 5:29 p.m.).
Nobody on either one of these stages has done more than I have done and the people of the State of Texas to deal with securing that border. We sent our Texas ranger recon teams, we sent our parks & wildlife warders. I deployed the national guard. After I stood on the ramp in Dallas, Texas and looked President of the U.S. in the eye said Mr. President, if you won't secure our border, Texas will. And that's exactly what we did. We need a President that won't just talk a good game, we need results. -- Rick Perry
5:15 p.m. -- Carly Fiorina is asked about Trump and uses it to talk about his flip-flop on amnesty. Fiorina fails to state her position on amnesty, which has been a common theme from her. Fiorina has earned a C- grade on our Presidential grade cards because she's mentioned some of the key words, but she's been vague in her mentions. She's earned First Steps in 5 categories and has no rating in 3 of the 4 legal immigration categories.
5:27 p.m. -- The first immigration question. FNC Moderator Bill Hemmer asks Rick Santorum what he would say to a child whose family could be broken up by his proposed immigration policies. Sen. Santorum has by far the strongest pro-American worker immigration plan, earning him the only A grade on our Presidential Hopefuls grade cards.
Hemmer's question is a common one asked by the media that completely ignores the real problem with illegal immigration and high levels of legal immigration -- how it impacts American workers and their families. What about the child of a parent who was laid off by Disney World last fall and replaced by a foreign worker? What about the child of a construction worker who has lost work because a competitor hired illegal workers? Unfortunately, these questions are never asked, but Santorum does a decent job of trying to steer his question to the impact of legal and illegal immigration on American workers by mentioning that " 35 million people have come here over the last 20 years."
Santorum refers to how his father was separated from his family for 7 years while waiting to legally immigrate to the U.S.
He spent 7 years of his life in fascist Italy under Mussolini. Not a very pleasant place to be. I asked my dad after I found out about this, didn't you resent America for not letting you be with your father during those formative and very threatening years. You know what he said to me? America was worth the wait. We're a country of laws. -- Rick Santorum
He calls his immigration plan "the strongest pro-American worker plan out there." He says he's going reduce immigration by 25%, secure the border, and help create a better life for Americans, so the 17 million Americans who can't find a full-time job can get back to work.
5:29 p.m. -- Gov. Perry is asked the same question. He says Americans have been "baited by this question". Perry immediately starts talking about the border and speaks to his experience as governor of a border state. He says you have to have strategic placement of border patrol agents and technology and 24/7 aerial surveillance. He says when the border is secured, American will have the confidence in the government to deal with 11 million illegal aliens.
Perry has earned a Very Good rating on our grade cards for border security, ranking behind only Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz who have earned excellent ratings. Perry's grade is based on comments similar to his answer during today's debate and his efforts to slow last summer's border surge by sending the National Guard to the Texas border. In order to gain an excellent rating, we're looking for Perry to provide more specifics on his plan to use strategic placement of technology and border patrol agents. Overall, Perry has earned a C+.
Roy notes on Twitter that, like Scott Walker, both Perry and Santorum "refuse to be cowed by emotional 'what say to kid of an illegal alien' question." Several weeks ago, Gov. Walker was confronted by an illegal alien in Iowa, and he said, "We're a nation of laws. ... My point is that you have to follow the law, follow the process." We'll hopefully hear more from Walker during the prime-time debate.
6:04 p.m. -- Hemmer asks the candidates what they would do on their first day if elected President. Both Gilmore and Jindal say they'll repeal Obama's executive amnesties. Jindal adds that he'd also go after sanctuary cities that won't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Perry says he'll secure the border. Both Santorum and Perry say they'll repeal all executive orders. I assume, based on past statements, that includes Obama's immigration actions. Fiorina says she'll also repeal Obama's executive amnesties.
6:14 p.m. -- In his closing statement, Santorum ties everything to immigration. He says, "I'm the only one looking out for the American worker."
6:16 p.m. -- Jindal also brings up immigration in his closing statement. He says, "immigration without assimilation is an invasion." Jindal makes a mention to legal immigration that sounds like he supports increases to immigration levels as long as it's legal. That's consistent with his grade card where he has an Abysmal in the "Overall Reductions" category and a Very Harmful in the "Unnecessary Workers" category.
At the end of the first debate, nearly every candidate said they would put American workers ahead of illegal aliens by repealing Pres. Obama's executive actions. Santorum made it clear that helping American workers by reducing overall legal immigration and opposing work permits for illegal aliens would be a top priority. Perry and Jindal said they would put public safety ahead of the interests of illegal aliens -- Perry by securing the border, and Jindal by ending sanctuary cities. The biggest amnesty advocate on the stage, Lindsey Graham, didn't make one mention of the issue, recognizing the voters mass opposition to his Gang of Eight bill.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 10:33am EST