Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum evoked his family's move from Italy to bolster his far-right views on immigration reform Thursday night during a GOP candidate forum. Santorum recounted how his father and grandfather were divided for seven years because of U.S. immigration law when asked by a Fox News moderator about what he would tell immigrant families about waiting for a visa.

Santorum said his father lived in Italy under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini while waiting to legally travel to the United States. "You know what he said to me?" Santorum recounted of his family tale, "America was worth the wait."

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal were among the Republican presidential hopefuls reduced to duking it out during a second-tier candidates' forum that aired ahead of a main debate airing later Thursday. The 5 p.m. EDT forum also included former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The candidates' low poll numbers meant they failed to meet Fox News Channel's criteria for the prime-time debate. For some, it was an unusual position to be in. Less than four years ago, Perry at one point was at the front of the 2012 Republican presidential field in national polls.

 

 

 

The main debate later Thursday night was slated to feature remarks from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; billionaire Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

"Our field is the biggest and most diverse of any party in history and I am glad to see that every one of those extremely qualified candidates will have the opportunity to participate on Thursday evening," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in the statement prior to the debate and forum. "Republicans across the country will be able to choose which candidate has earned their support after hearing them talk through the issues."

Fox News said in May it would allow only those candidates who placed "in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News" to participate in the debate, Bloomberg reported. Not everyone was happy with the decision.

Movie star Brad Pitt “would have a better shot of being on the debate stage than real candidates for president” because the “criterion favors celebrities and candidates who have run previously with high name recognition,” Graham of South Carolina said in an email to supporters July 7.

Santorum, who performed well during the 2012 presidential campaign, also lashed out before the forum. "The idea that they have left out the runner-up for the 2012 nomination [Santorum], the former four-term governor of Texas [Perry], the governor of Louisiana [Bobby Jindal], the first female Fortune 50 CEO [Carly Fiorina], and the three-term senator from South Carolina [Graham] due to polling seven months before a single vote is cast is preposterous," his spokesman said.