Could immigration be the issue that weeds out the GOP presidential pack?

LatinaLista — Even before airing, last night’s CNN presidential debate promised to deliver some worthy sound bites — or awkward silences — given that the theme of the debate was national security.

Gov. Rick Perry listens intently to fellow presidential candidate Newt Gingrich explain his support of undocumented immigrants at the CNN presidential debate.

While most every one of the candidates simply reiterated what he or she has been saying on the campaign trail to each question posed, there was one shocker that has gone beyond the sound bite.

It was Newt Gingrich’s defense of undocumented immigrants.

“I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here a quarter-century,” Gingrich said. “And I am prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but finding a way to give them legality so as not to separate them from their families.”

“If you’ve been here 25 years and you’ve got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out,” he said.

As to be expected, most of his campaign trail colleagues immediately pounced on him and substituted the word “amnesty” in commenting on his remarks.

Gingrich’s competitor, Michelle Bachmann’s campaign issued a statement before their candidate was even off the debate stage, saying Gingrich was proposing amnesty.

Republican analysts have been commenting all morning that Gingrich didn’t do himself any favors in taking the stand he did and chastised him for taking on an “intellectual debate” when he was ahead in the polls.

By design, “amnesty” has become a trigger word to get Tea Party and ultra-conservatives riled up over the illegal immigration issue and those candidates who are catering to this demographic know which buttons to push.

To his credit, Gov. Rick Perry didn’t take advantage of the situation to boost his image. Aside from the fact it would have been hypocritical, Perry remained pretty much silent when it came to agreeing with any kind of plan to deport 11 million people.

As he should, since he knows there are undocumented immigrants in Texas who have contributed one way or another to the Lone Star State, and the country.

Given the fact that both Perry and Gingrich have put themselves out there in defense of undocumented immigrants, it’s surprising that not more Latino Republicans have applauded their remarks.

At a time in this party’s history when the leadership has allowed attacks on a people who have ties to one segment of their membership, it would seem that Latino Republicans would want to encourage more constructive and realistic rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants by publicly appreciating what both these men have said.

Otherwise, the rest of the presidential pack will go on talking “trash” about undocumented immigrants in one public venue after another.

The more erroneous and egregious they get in their attacks, without challenge, will only solidify in the average American’s mind — who isn’t educated about Latinos — that undocumented immigrants are as bad as the candidates say.

It will be an impression that will last long after the 2012 presidential election.

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