10/20/2011 12:53 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2011

The Immigration Crap Shoot For The Latino Vote (VIDEO)

An electrified fence crowned with barbed wire. Unmanned Predator drones in the air. More troops on the ground.

With the 2012 presidential election still more than one year away, the leading GOP candidates are eagerly promoting the militarization of the porous U.S.-Mexican border to stop what they suggest are waves of illegal immigration.

How the GOP hard-line on immigration plays with Latino voters remains to be seen. Whoever wins the nomination to oppose President Barack Obama's re-election bid next year will no doubt need the vote of the largest and fastest growing U.S. minority group if they expect to occupy the White House, as Reuters reported.

This week, the GOP candidates took a gamble during another animated debate, this one in, of all places, a casino in Nevada -- one of the swing states where the 2012 presidential race could be decided and where 27 percent of the population is Latino, according to Reuters.

Texas Governor Rick Perry vowed to use Predator drones along the Mexican border, and more troops to guard the frontier. He criticized former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for hiring undocumented immigrants. Romney, in turn, blasted Perry for not supporting a fence in Texas along the border with Mexico.

Businessman Herman Cain did not back away from his lethal solution: an electrified border fence, topped with with barbed wire. "I don't apologize at all for wanting to protect the American citizens and to protect our agents on the border. No," he said at Tuesday's debate.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann proposed a double wall along the entire Mexican border. She was critical of foreign women who come to the United States and give birth to babies she called "anchors" they utilize to stay in the country.

With the verbal assaults, the Republicans appeared to take dead aim at their own party's chances in the presidential race with “exchanges that played right into Democrats' hands,” Howard Fineman wrote in The Huffington Post.

"Attempting to out-do each other in their antagonism to undocumented immigrants, the GOP candidates honed in on the toughest possible sanctions and military measures for 15 minutes before someone thought to mention that the party had respect for legal immigration -- and for the Hispanic community. They missed chance after chance to discuss anything specific about how they would help create jobs -- the country's number one concern."

The GOP tough talk actually comes at a time when Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reporting record deportations. The federal agency removed 396,826 undocumented immigrants from the United States in fiscal year 2011, a slight increase from the previous year.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, faces other hurdles. Latino unemployment, at 11.3 percent, surpasses the national average by more than two percentage points. The Los Angeles Times reported that a quarter of the 51 million Latinos in the United States live in poverty, compared to a national average of 15 percent.

In Albuquerque, Obama campaign volunteers have faced resistance from Latino voters.

"The excitement isn't there like it was," said Ana Canales, a volunteer and the county Democratic Party chairwoman. "There are a lot of people who are saying, 'We're not going to vote.' We have a lot of work on our hands ... to make sure those Latinos understand that he [Obama] is working for us."

The GOP also should be concerned, particularly in states with large Latino populations, according to the New York Times.

"The discussion of creating electrified fences from sea to sea is neither prudent nor helpful," said Ryan Call, chairman of the Republican Party of Colorado, where Hispanics cast 13 percent of votes in 2008 and helped President Obama flip the state to blue. "They're throwing red meat around in an attempt to mollify a particular aspect of the Republican base."

Who'll win this crap shoot?