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Republican Candidates Focus on Immigration Ahead of First Debate

  • VOA News

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio participates via video conference during the Voters First Presidential Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire August 3, 2015.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio participates via video conference during the Voters First Presidential Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire August 3, 2015.

Immigration was a key focus Monday night as Republicans hoping to be the next U.S. president took part in a forum ahead of the party's first official debate.

Fourteen of the 17 major contenders were in New Hampshire for the two-hour event televised nationally on the same cable network that shows congressional proceedings and on local channels in the first states to vote in the nomination process early next year.

Billionaire Donald Trump, the current leader in national polls, declined to participate, as did former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Individual interviews

The rest of the crowded field took turns speaking in individual interviews, a format different from the debate to be held Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio, which will allow candidates to address one another.

That event will be limited to the top 10 candidates in national polls, according to party rules.

They focused criticism on Democrats, particularly that party's leading candidate, Hillary Clinton, while expressing the need to focus on securing the nation's borders as a major component of immigration policy.

"Until we get that border secure, it's not going to stop," former Texas Governor Rick Perry said. "It's like a serious wound, you want to staunch the flow and that's not what's happening in this country now."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said one piece of immigration reform should be limiting the number of people who are allowed to enter the U.S. to join family already living in the country. Florida Senator Marco Rubio also backed that idea.

"We admit 1 million people a year legally to the United States, but we do so primarily on the basis of whether or not they have a relative living here," Rubio said.

"We cannot afford to do it that way anymore. In the 21st century, legal immigration must be based on merit, on what you can contribute economically, basically whether you are coming to be an American as opposed to simply live in America," he added.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum advocated for a 25 percent cut in the number of low-skilled immigrants legally allowed into the country.

Ohio's Governor John Kasich said there should be an expansion in the guest worker program, and that illegal immigrants already in the U.S. who otherwise obey the law should be allowed to stay.

Carbon emissions

On other topics, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker attacked the plan President Barack Obama unveiled Monday to cut carbon emissions from the nation's power plants, calling it a costly "buzzsaw" to the American economy.

"I want to balance a sustainable environment with a sustainable economy, but the two have to go hand in hand," Walker said.

Obama's Democratic Party has not yet announced a schedule for debates among its candidates in the November 2016 election. Five Democrats have declared they are in the race, with Clinton the clear leader in polls.

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham took aim at Clinton at Monday's forum, suggesting she is being dishonest about her lack of public stance on the proposed Keystone oil pipeline and her controversial use of personal email during her time as secretary of State under Obama.

"When she tells us, 'Trust me you've got all the emails you need,' we haven't even scratched the surface," Graham said.

Thursday's Fox News event figures to include the same themes, as well as Trump, as candidates take part in the first of 12 debates planned by the Republican National Committee.

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