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Immigration Gets More Time than Veterans, Other Issues in GOP Debate

Image: BESTPIX - Top-Polling GOP Candidates Participate In First Republican Presidential Debate

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John Kasich take the stage for the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX *** Scott Olson / Getty Images

Based on the time spent on it in the first GOP presidential debate, it would seem immigration is not only a major issue for Latinos, but also for Republicans.

The enduring issue was raised in the first 20 minutes of the debate with questions to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and real estate mogul Donald Trump and then picked up again after a break in the next half hour with questions on the immigration to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz,

"I think everybody understand that there's some disagreement between the candidates and I think Fox (News) was trying to exploit that," said Daniel Garza, executive director of The LIBRE Initiative, a conservative group focused on engaging Hispanics.

"It's fair to do that to get the contrast between where Jeb stands and where Marco Rubio stands and to the other side to Ted and Donald Trump," said Garza, whose group supports supports immigration reform and legal status for immigrants here illegally.

Immigration Tops the Agenda During GOP Debate 1:09

In all, about 10 minutes was spent on the issue, even though fewer immigrants are coming across the border illegally than in recent history and the nation has gone through eight years of an administration that has had record deportations. That time doesn't include references interspersed in other comments by the candidates.

Up to the point that the first immigration was raised to Bush asking him whether he stuck by his comments that people who come illegally across the border are committing an act of love, the debate's moderators had been asking different questions of each individual candidate.

Six of the 10 candidates who participated in the debate were asked one after another about an aspect of the immigration issue before the moderators moved on to terrorism and national security, a topic that got less than four minutes, a period extended because Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was allowed to respond to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's comments on terrorism and the debate between the two became one of the most heated moments of forum.

"The issue is of importance to the conservative base. They want to talk about immigration," Alfonso Aguilar, executive director Latino Parternship for Conservative Principles.

While immigration was an issue brought up early in the prime time debate shown on Fox News' cable channel, the concerns of veterans almost didn't make it in. The question came in the final portion of the debate when it was squeezed in as part of the closing question on whether the candidates had received any word from God on what they should do and take care of first if elected.

When it was Rubio's turn to answer the question, debate moderator Megyn Kelly said a woman had come to the stage and asked: "What about the veterans? I want to hear what these candidates are going to do about the nation's veterans?' So Kelly made veterans an add-on to debate questions.

Theresa Speake of Alexandria, chair of Virginia Hispanic Republican Advisory Council, said she didn't feel immigration got excessive time "because it is such a divisive issue. Perhaps Trump said it well when he said 'You would not be talking about immigration' but for him.'

At his presidential announcement, Trump said Mexico is sending Mexicans who are rapists, criminals and drug users across the border. He doubled down on the comments at the debate saying the Mexican government is smarter and more cunning than the American government and Mexican leaders "send the bad ones" to the U.S.

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles in Action Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said he is not surprised so much time went to immigration.

“The issue is of importance to the conservative base. They want to talk about immigration. I don’t think we are talking about it because of Donald Trump. He brought more attention to it to bring it to the forefront but it was being discussed," Aguilar said.

"I think since 2006 when the issue began to be very divisive it has been a main issue of the Republican party," Aguilar said.

Image: Top-Polling GOP Candidates Participate In First Republican Presidential Debate
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appears on the large video screen hanging abouve the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in political rhetoric and communications professor at Texas A&M University, said because Trump had made the issue central to the campaign and is the frontrunner questions had to be asked of other candidates on immigration and they had to be prepared to talk on the issue. She also said a recent Economist/YouGov poll showed 87 percent of the nation listed immigration as an important issue and as "most important" with 10 percent of respondents. The poll draws its findings from its online panel.

But the issue may have been just right for the crowd that gathered in the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball arena, as Mercieca saw it.

"It was a noteworthy crowd in that it was responding at all," Mercieca said. In general, during election debates the crowds are not allowed to clap or cheer or make any noise in response to candidates' comments.

"This was the opposite. This was an indecorous crowd ... Some candidates were playing to the crowd, some candidates were shouting over it. Sometimes the crowd was encouraging," she said.

She added that Trump has made the issue central to the campaign and other candidates in the campaign have responded. "He has made a spectacle of the issue so they treated it like a spectacle," she said. "Fox News is interested in ratings."