Bob Dane
Thomas Jefferson must have smiled. He said the electorate must be educated on the issues to make intelligent choices at the ballot box, and at the first Republican candidate debate, we heard a series of starkly different views on key policy issues – many stated with clarity. This stands in sharp contrast to the foggy positions articulated on immigration policy, which emerged for a brief time only in the form of two questions involving illegal aliens and birthright citizenship.

Of course, responding at sound bite speed to piecemeal questions for a complex problem is challenging. Perhaps that's why the candidates' responses ranged from incomplete to incomprehensible. In both the manner of questioning and responding, the immigration issue was not fully presented, and perhaps that’s why the nation is struggling to find meaningful solutions.

As an organization that has been following and leading the immigration debate for thirty years, and has a firm grasp of public opinion of this issue, we’d like to offer some free advice for those asking and answering immigration questions next time around.

For the moderator, posit the full question of how a candidate would overhaul America’s immigration system (it needs a full re-do and fast) rather than attempting to flesh out policy differences in random bits and pieces. Elicit the big picture answer for the big problem. Then make the candidates address immigration policy like they’ve actually given it some serious thought: no aphorism, bromides and shop-worn truisms.

For candidates, it is not necessary to always bend over backwards to say you’re a fan of legal immigration. Responding to a question about illegal alien benefits, Senator Santorum, proclaimed, "Well, I'm the son of a legal immigrant in this country and believe in legal immigration. That is a great wellspring of strength for our country." He then went on to remind his audience that that “his grandfather came to this country.” You are not required to proclaim your affection for legal immigration in order to have the authority to condemn the impact of illegal immigration. Moreover, this approach limits your ability to speak to the problems inherent in our legal admissions process, and there are many reforms necessary.

Don’t use the terminology of those who support amnesty because you’ll confuse your audience. And don’t support it, unless you mean it. One of Mr. Cain’s solutions to solving illegal immigration was to "promote the path to citizenship, like this lady did, by getting -- cleaning up the bureaucracy." Huh? For most of us Mr. Cain, this means amnesty. Is that what you meant?

Bob Dane

Bob Dane is the Director of Communications for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.