It's been a while since the GOP Presidential Debates provided us with a lively discussion on the nation's immigration issues, and unfortunately Monday night's debate in South Carolina didn't do much to advance the discussion either. But, the debate hosted by Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal did provide some opportunities for the candidates to restate their positions along with some missed opportunities.
This was the first debate since our Presidential Hopefuls grade card shake-up that took place this weekend. Rick Santorum had been sitting near the bottom of our ratings, but skyrocketed to the top of the GOP field after making some strong comments regarding the Visa Lottery, Chain Migration, and worker verification on Friday. He had a chance to work those statements into a response to a question on unemployment, but failed to make the connection.
Fox News Contributor and The Hill columnist Juan Williams asked Santorum about the high jobless rate among Black Americans in South Carolina. Both the Visa Lottery and Chain Migration, which Santorum pledged to eliminate and reduce, respectively, bring hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers into the United States who compete for jobs with unemployed Americans. Santorum missed a big opportunity to advance his position on those two issues while addressing the unemployment problem like our South Carolina TV ad suggests.
Mitt Romney has the second highest grade among his GOP competitors on our Presidential grid (C+), and he didn't do anything to hurt nor help his grade. But Romney did reiterate his position to veto the DREAM Act when Juan Williams asked if that position jeopardizes support from Hispanic Americans. Romney said:
I think Latino voters are interested in America being an opportunity nation. . . . In my view as long as we communicate to the people of America of all backgrounds in this country that it can be better, and that America is a land of opportunity, then we'll get those votes.
I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or given a special route to become citizens than those people who have stayed in line legally. I think we have to follow the law.
I've indicated that I would veto the DREAM Act and the provisions in that act that say that people who are here illegally but go to school long enough, get a degree here, that they can become permanent residents. I think that's a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist that those who come here legally ultimately return home, get in line, apply like everyone else.
The only other candidate to receive an immigration question was Rick Perry. He was asked why he would add resources to securing the border when statistics show that illegal border crossings are at a four-year low. Perry said:
The reason why those border crossings are at a four-year low are because the U.S. economy is probably at a four-year low.
As the governor of the nation's second largest state and the longest border, I've spent 11 years dealing with this issue, and the idea that Americans don't want us to spend the money to secure that border is just flat out false.
We're going to secure the border with Mexico. That means strategic fencing. That means thousands of national guard troops there until we can train enough border patrol troops to be there. And it means predator drones and other aviation assets so we have the real-time information to flow down to those individuals who are in law enforcement, so they can immediately respond to any activities they see on the border that is either weapons related, drug related, or illegal immigration related that's occurring on the border.
The issue isn't about how much it's going to cost. The issue is when are you going to get it done. And when I'm the President of the United States that border will be locked down and secure within one year from the time I take my hand off the bible.
Perry also brought up the immigration issue earlier in the debate when asked about the Justice Department's challenge to South Carolina's voter ID law. He mentioned the their challenge to South Carolina's immigration enforcement law, reinforcing his position supporting state-passed immigration laws.
What Perry did with the Justice Department question is exactly what we would like to see the Presidential Hopefuls do more often. Nearly every domestic issue in America is impacted in some way by high levels of legal and illegal immigration. Whether it be unemployment, healthcare, education or another issue, they're all affected by immigration.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Jan 16th 2012 @ 11:20pm EST