As Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain surged to the top of some polls recently, his stance on immigration sparked a controversy.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, topped a recent IBOPE Zogby poll, leading the runner-up, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, by 20 points. Another poll, conducted by CBS, showed Cain tied with Romney.
At the same time his poll numbers have jumped, Cain has faced sharp criticism for comments he made about immigration reform at a campaign event in Tennessee on October 15. Cain said if he was elected, he would build a 20-foot high electrified border fence with Mexico that would kill anyone who touched it.
Appearing on “Meet the Press” the next day, Cain said his fence suggestion was a joke, and he declared America needs to get a sense of humor.
The electrified fence comments drew sharp criticism from immigration rights activists. Representative Charlie Gonzalez of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, released a statement condemning Cain’s words.
“Words have consequences, both in shaping ideas and inspiring actions,” Gonzalez wrote. “Whether or not he made his comments in jest, Mr. Cain’s words show a lack of understanding of the immigration issues our country is facing and a staggering lack of sensitivity.”
Despite characterizing his comments as a joke and apologizing for causing offense, Cain has said he stands by the proposal for an electrified fence, given that his primary concern is protecting U.S. citizens from harm, the Phoenix New Times reported.
One of the candidates Cain displaced in the polls, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has also come under fire for his positions on immigration. Cain and Perry will likely seek to more clearly stake out their positions on immigration reform at a primary debate in Las Vegas on October 18.