The final GOP debate before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus kicked off on Thursday night and immigration became a heavy focus.

Immigration Flip Flop?

Sponsored by Fox News and Google, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was shown videos of previous statements about immigration reform, namely his stance on providing a pathway to legal status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In the clips, Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, spoke in opposition of a pathway to citizenship, or "amnesty." Rubio, who was a co-sponsor to the Senate's 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) that included a pathway to citizenship, defended his platform as one who opposes amnesty.

"I do not support blanket amnesty," he said.

Rubio later said, "What I've always said is that this issue needs to be solved. They've been talking about this issue for 30 years and nothing ever happens," adding he will confront the issue by keeping the Islamic State militant group out of America and enforce immigration laws.

"I am the son and the grandson of immigrants and I know that securing our borders is not anti-immigrant and we will do it," Rubio continued. "We will hire 20,000 new border agents instead of 20,000 new IRS agents, we will finish the 700 miles of fencing and walls our nation needs, we'll have mandatory e-verify, a mandatory entry-exit tracking system and until all of that is in place and all of that is working and that we can prove to the people of this country that the illegal immigration is under control, nothing else is going to happen. We are not going to round up and deport 12 million people but we're not going around handing out citizenship cards either."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he's confused about Rubio's stance since the senator sponsored S. 744, which allowed citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Bush admitted that he had supported Rubio and the bill since immigration reform action was needed.

"And then he cut and run because it wasn't popular amongst conservatives, I guess," Bush said, adding his platform includes a pathway to legal status for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. and allow them to pay a fine, work, pay taxes, not have a criminal record and eventually earn citizenship.

In Bush's response, he plugged his book "Immigration Wars," which Rubio seized to note its where the former governor had changed his position on immigration, stating Bush supported a pathway to citizenship.

"So did you," Bush responded. "So did you, Marco."

Puerto Rico

One issue that has been neglected in both Democratic and Republican presidential debates is the financial and health crises in Puerto Rico. During Thursday's GOP debate, only Bush was asked about the U.S. commonwealth. Bush said the U.S. should not "bailout" Puerto Rico, which currently has more than $70 billion in debt. Bush believes Puerto Rico has the right to self-determination and if he was Puerto Rican, would vote for statehood, so they can serve in the military and pay taxes.

"Before you get to that though, Puerto Rico is going to have to deal with the structural problems that they face. ... Federal government can play a role in allowing them to do that but the process of statehood or the status of Puerto Rico won't be solved until we get to the bigger issue of how you deal with the structural economic problems that they're facing right now," said Bush.


The final GOP debate before the Iowa caucus did not include current front-runner Donald Trump, who boycotted the event citing issues with the Fox News Channel. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who assumed the center podium due to Trump's absence, was asked the first question about Trump's no-show.

Cruz promoted Iowa and that the state will be a "fly-to country" instead of a "flyover country." He then made a Trump-influenced joke about himself and the fellow candidates of the primetime debate, which included Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Rand Paul.

"Let me say, I'm a maniac, and everyone on this stage is fat, stupid and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon," Cruz said. "Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way, I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up and make the case to the people of this state and the people of the country why each of us believes we would make the best commander in chief."

Trump, meanwhile, was a few miles away hosting a fundraising event for veterans, which included fellow GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.


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