By Mike Lillis - 10/18/11 07:19 PM EDT
A leading House Democrat is taking GOP presidential contender Herman Cain to task for suggesting an electric border fence would be the country's best defense against illegal immigrants.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) accused Cain on Tuesday of "spewing hate" and inciting violence without offering any real solution to the illegal immigration issue.
"Instead of making their campaigns about ideas, solutions, and hope," he added, "they use their time on the stage to make jokes about electrocuting migrants."
Cain raised eyebrows Saturday during a campaign stop in Tennessee, where he suggested the government erect a deadly electric fence at the nation's borders.
"We'll have a real fence, 20 feet high with barbed wire, electrified, with a sign on the other side that says, 'It can kill you,' " Cain said to a cheering crowd.
Cain later dismissed the notion that his proposal was "insensitive."
"What is insensitive," he said, "is when they come to the United States across our border and kill our citizens and kill our border patrol people."
A day later, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO walked back his remarks, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that he'd only been joking.
"That is not a serious plan," he said. "I've also said America needs to get a sense of humor. That was a joke, OK."
The explanation did little to satisfy immigrant-rights groups, who are also attacking Cain's comments this week.
“Cain may have been ‘joking,’ but suggesting that murder is a way to address illegal immigration just isn’t funny,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group, said Monday in a statement.
Reyes, for one, agrees, referencing the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to argue that violent rhetoric "should not be tolerated" and that those who use it "need to be held accountable for their actions."
"It is evident that immigrants are being demonized and used as scapegoats by some of the most radical elements within the Republican Party," Reyes said. "I hope that, Mr. Cain as a leader in the Republican Party and a candidate for the presidency, goes beyond his apology and makes a commitment to advancing solutions on the topic of immigration like moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform."
Reyes's comments came on the same day that the Homeland Security Department announced that the agency deported almost 397,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2011 — the most in the agency's history.