The final presidential debate is now history. An allegedly unlicensed (illegal?) plumber nicknamed Joe (whose real name is Sam) received top billing, having been mentioned over 25 times in the 90-minute encounter. Less than a week ago debate moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS, hinted that immigration — a topic missing in action in the first two presidential debates and the lone Palin-Biden debate — at long last would be the subject of a probing question:

If I could pose one question, let’s just say on immigration and say, ‘Gentlemen, what are we going to do about immigration? You can build that fence, but you’re still going to have 10 million illegal immigrants in this country. What are you going to do with ‘em? Talk with me about that for 10 minutes.’

Alas, the only reference to immigration came when McCain accused Obama of airing ads that “misportray[ed]” his position on immigration. Why are the candidates addressing immigration only in slime-tossing ads aired on Spanish-language programs?

“Why are the candidates “dissin’” immigration? According to a recent Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue survey, the white-hot political heat of the anti-legalization crowd seems to have turned to a warm glow in favor of a path to citizenship with some sting:

Sixty-seven percent [of likely voters] would support a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally if they pay taxes, pay a penalty and learn English — 80% of Democrats, 57% of Republicans and 62% of political independents agree with this new path to citizenship. More than half (54%) said the same for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before their 16th birthday. Most (53%) also support expanding temporary worker programs for migrants as a way to fill jobs that are not being taken by American workers.

The silence is even more puzzling given the size of the likely Latino vote in four battleground states (Florida,Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada) and immigration reform among the top four issues for Latino voters, many of whom remain undecided. In the few days remaining to the election, maybe Joe (er, Sam) the plumber can unclog the silent gunk, and persuade his newfound friends, Sens. Obama and McCain, to come clean on immigration.