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Republican Candidates for CD8 Special Election Speak on Border Issues

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  The 388 Republican Club hosted a congressional debate Tuesday night at the Voyager RV Resort for the upcoming GOP primary in the Congressional District 8 special election. The April 17, special primary is to name a republican candidate for the June election that will take the place of resigned congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Four candidates have submitted their candidacy including 2010 CD8 republican nominee Jesse Kelly, State Senator Frank Antenori and local broadcaster Dave Sitton. The fourth candidate, former Air Force fighter pilot Martha McSally was not in attendance due to obligations in Washington.   

Although issues of the economy and job creation took center stage at the debate, immigration and border security was, as always, a hot topic and all the candidates had their own ideas of ways to curb illegal immigration.

"Build the double layer border fence," said Kelly. "And don't let anybody ever tell you that the most powerful country in the history of the world can't secure their own border." 

Kelly said only 5 percent of illegal immigrants crossing the border are caught by Border Patrol and 50 percent of the illegal drugs imported into the United States are done so through the Tucson sector.

When asked about building a more comprehensive fence, Antenori said he didn't think that was necessarily the solution.

"Some places it's just not cost effective, it costs way too much money," said Antenori. "You need a barrier to slow people down but you need boots on the ground to catch those people tripped up by the fence."

"What about those American families who live along the wall, whose ranches have been turned into war zones?" Said Sitton in response.

All three candidates did agree that amnesty is not something they would support.

"If you've come here illegally you have committed a crime, period," said Sitton. "We would not be talking about these issues if we had actually taken care of the border when we needed to."

"You do not give anybody amnesty, because that is rewarding lawbreaking," said Antenori. "They have the opportunity to go home and come back as a legal citizen but we will not reward them for being here illegally."

Antenori did however say that additional programs needed to be installed to curb the need to immigrate illegally.

"Providing a program for seasonal and agricultural workers and in some cases for temporary workers for business we can reduce the demand of people coming here illegally," said Antenori.

Candidates agreed with eachother on many issues including their dislike of President Obama's job perfomance, the Department of Education and tax hikes for higher income families.

Border issues were also almost unilaterally agreed upon, as candidates cited a need for a more comprehensive border fencing and no amnesty of any kind for undocumented citizens in the United States.

"The misconception that the media loves to play is that we're against immigration and that we want to close the border," said Antenori after the debate. "Nobody wants to close the border, we want to control the border and we want commerce to come but we want legal commerce."

The winner of the republican primary will likely face off against Ron Barber, Giffords' district aide and a fellow survivor of last years Jan. 8 Tucson shooting in the special election in June. Barber was shot in the leg and face.

State Rep. Matt Heinz was also running but recently dropped out to endorse Barber for the special election period respecting the wishes of Giffords' camp to finish out her term with somebody on her staff.

The winner in the special election could have a slight leg up in the November election, but with congressional redistricting approved earlier this year, it would be hard to determine a definitive frontrunner.

Much of Congressional District 8 will turn into Congressional District 2 which has slightly different demographics but still includes most of Tucson's east side.

Tuesday's event was the first debate in a series of four scheduled in March, before the primary election April 17. For the candidates full response to illegal immigration reform see the video below.

Video by Lauren Sokol, story written by Brett Haupt

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