These Republican Candidates Pushed Back On Extreme Anti-Immigration Rhetoric During Debate

"[Mass deportation] would send a signal that we're not the kind of country I know America is."

The Republican debate on Tuesday evening was largely devoid of personal barbs. In Milwaukee, the candidates instead talked foreign policy, trade, taxes, and other issues. One of the most spirited discussions took place during the topic of immigration, as Republican candidates clashed at their fourth debate about reform and how best to tackle the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 

Frontrunner Donald Trump defended his plan to build a wall along the Mexico border and deport the millions of unauthorized immigrants. He was swiftly taken to task by Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

"We need to control our border just like people have to control who goes in and out of their house," Kasich argued. "But if people think that we are going to ship 11 million people who are law abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up in their house and ship them out to Mexico, think about the families, think about the children."

Kasich put forward his own plan: if they abide by the law and pay a penalty for illegal entry, "they should get to stay. We protect the wall, anybody else comes over, they go back," he said. "But for the 11 million people? Come on, folks. It's a silly argument, it's not an adult argument. It makes no sense."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also warned that Trump's extreme anti-immigration rhetoric would alienate the Hispanic vote — to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's advantage. 

"It's not embracing American values, and it would tear communities apart and it would send a signal that we're not the kind of country I know America is, " Bush said. "They're doing high fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this."

One of the biggest fears about undocumented immigrants is that they hurt the U.S. economy, a larger issue that Tuesday's debate centered on. 

Undocumented workers undeniably have a negative effect on American-born workers who are similarly skilled, but they benefit others. According to the New York Times, skilled workers earned more money and worked more hours in states with more undocumented immigrants, and boosted economic productivity. 

The debate highlighted a sharp divide in the Republican field between those who hold the same view as many a conservative voter and those who are more moderate on immigration. But deportation, particularly if on a mass scale as Trump suggests, causes significant harm to families who have laid down roots, and will have a huge impact on the labor force, 5.1 percent of which is composed of undocumented immigrants.

Cover image via Scott Olson / Getty Images