As immigration falls to historic lows, the rhetoric reaches historic highs

As GOP presidential candidates begin the fight to stay alive by doing well in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, one issue they reliably turn to is immigration–with an open competition to see who can sound the toughest.

While it may be a winning strategy among GOP voters in South Carolina, the Charlotte Observer points out that in a country where attempted border crossings are at a 40-year low and deportations are way above levels seen under President George W. Bush, immigration may not be the issue candidates would like it to be.

When it comes to illegal immigration, Republican presidential candidates are railing like it’s 1999.

Listening to the GOP White House aspirants, you wouldn’t know that the number of illegal immigrants in the United States is down, attempted border crossings are at a 40-year low and President Barack Obama has deported undocumented workers at twice the rate of his predecessor.

The issue will likely heat up in the next two weeks as the White House aspirants campaign to win South Carolina’s first-in-the-South GOP primary Jan. 21.

With slight variations, the top candidates back mass deportations, tough state enforcement laws and extending the 675-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and they oppose giving most illegal immigrants a path to legal residency.

While influential Republicans not currently running for president caution the candidates that it may be necessary to get some of the 20 million plus Latino votes available in this next election, the candidates themselves seem to put a higher premium on winning white primary voters than on how their stances will play in a general election against President Obama.

Influential Republicans have warned about reversing the inroads Reagan, President George W. Bush and 2008 GOP nominee John McCain made among Hispanics, the country’s fastest-growing demographic group with 21.7 million eligible voters – almost three times the 7.7 million in 1988.

“The Republican Party has to discuss (immigration) in as humane a way as possible,” McCain told CNN last month. “We have to have empathy, we have to have concern and we have to have a plan.”

Former Bush adviser Karl Rove and former House Republican leader Dick Armey have also warned against alienating Hispanics. Their advice has not been heeded.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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