Immigration Policy a Key Issue in the First GOP Presidential Debate

Last night marked the first GOP presidential debate of the season. Candidates from the crowded Republican field squared off on a number of different issues, but, as predicted by the media, national immigration policy remained a prominent topic.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump added fuel to the fire of his prior, controversial remarks from his campaign announcement that characterized Mexicans as criminals. He remained adamant that stemming illegal immigration relied on building a physical barrier between America and Mexico. "We need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly,” Trump said at the debate. "And I don’t mind having a big beautiful door in that wall so that people can come into this country legally."

In a lower-tier forum before the debate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also took a hard line on new arrivals to America. "We must insist on assimilation–immigration without assimilation is an invasion," he said. "We need to tell folks who want to come here, they need to come here legally. They need to learn English, adopt our values, roll up their sleeves and get to work."

Of the candidates, Florida Governor Jeb Bush was perhaps the most progressive. Bush has long been a supporter of maintaining a path towards legal status for all undocumented immigrants—a point he reiterated in the debate. "There should be a path for earned legal status for those who are here," he told the audience. "Not amnesty—earned legal status."

A Critical Issue for Republicans

As MSNBC points out, immigration has been a growing concern for the GOP for years now. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney garnered only 27% of the Latino vote. Last year's Executive Orders from President Obama—which deferred deportation for countless undocumented residents—also stirred ire and concern throughout much of the GOP.

Still, pundits have been hard on the GOP candidate's apparent lack of immigration policy, making last night's debate a first glimpse of platforms that have not been fully articulated. True to his brash approach, Trump was quick to take credit for the immigration discussion on stage. "If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration," he said. "This was not a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement."

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