Republican presidential candidates failed to provide convincing or clear answers on issues of key importance to Latinos during a Univision-sponsored debate at the University of Miami Dec. 9.

Immigration was its central issue, with instant interpretation provided for the network’s Spanish-speaking audience.

Participating were Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, Ron Paul, John McCain and Duncan Hunter.

In spite of pointed questioning by anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, the seven contenders used the 90-minute forum to stress the need for border security but offered little else in specifics on how to resolve the nation’s immigration dilemma.

The general reaction was given voice by Democratic National Committee spokesman Luis Miranda.

“They seem unable to deal with the possibility of doing anything other than forcing the 12 million (undocumented) people who are here to self-deport,” Miranda told Hispanic Link News Service. “They refuse to acknowledge that the undocumented immigrants who are already here have 3 million children.”

Univision sponsored a debate by Democrats Sept. 9, with somewhat similar concerns expressed about responsive replies.

Miranda also claimed the GOP candidates promised to “continue more of the failed policies of the Bush administration. Whether it was on Iraq, health care or education, they essentially promised to stay the course.”

Republican National Hispanic Assembly Chair Danny Vargas offered another perspective, saying the candidates “were able to talk about values we share in common,” such as family, education and opportunity.

“We’ve got some great candidates who have a wealth of experience and are able to talk about issues that are important to the Hispanic community,” he said.

The GOP candidates were lockstep on securing the nation’s borders before addressing other immigration-related issues. Giuliani said he supports physical and technological barriers along the border. Romney called for an employment verification system.

Only Huckabee stated he would favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants so long as they go to the back of the line and border security has been dealt with. McCain, who has introduced legislation to legalize the undocumented in the past, did not state a position other than to say the issue should be dealt with compassionately. Hunter said legalization would only create a new wave of unauthorized migration.

The candidates avoided answering whether they supported keeping some 3 million U.S.-born children and their undocumented parents together.

Asked about anti-Latino sentiment as a result of the immigration debate, they referred back to securing the border. Hunter claimed Latinos do not want permeable borders.

All praised the community’s participation in the military throughout the debate, and only Paul favored an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

He received boos when he called for opening dialogue with Venezuela and Cuba.

Tom Tancredo was absent. He explained, “Bilingualism is a great asset for any individual but it has perilous consequences for a nation. As such, a Spanish debate has no place in a presidential campaign.”

Huckabee called it a much bigger risk not to have participated at all.

(Alex Meneses Miyashita is editor of Hispanic Link Weekly Report in Washington, D.C. Reach him at Alex(at)