DMI Blog

Amy Taylor

What are the Candidates Saying About Immigration? McCain on Immigration


In November, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced that he was forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign. Coming from a border state, McCain was focused on immigration long before it was such a high profile issue in Washington. In fact, at the beginning of President Bush's second term, the Senator called on Bush to prioritize immigration reform.

In the spring, McCain, along with Senator Kennedy, introduced the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" that came to be known at the "McCain-Kennedy Bill". The bill's major provisions included a new temporary worker program, improved border security provisions, increased employer sanctions utilizing technological innovations and a path to earned citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

DMI's immigration policy report "Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class" contains a "middle class litmus test" we created to evaluate legislation-- you can see how the McCain-Kennedy Bill scored here.

Listen to Senator McCain talking about his views on immigration at a town hall here.
In this clip he defends his proposal for a "path to legalization" and responds to his critics who called his proposal amnesty. "[T]hat is not amnesty. Amnesty is forgiveness. We're not forgiving anything."

McCain acknowledges that our economy heavily relies on immigrant workers. "We are facing a situation whereby the U.S. population does not provide the workers that businesses desperately need, yet the demand for their services and products continues." His answer to this problem is both to bring in new temporary workers to fill jobs and to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows.

What should we do about the millions of undocumented workers here already? McCain's brand of legalization in his proposed legislation would have required that any worker seeking to embark on this path would be required to pay backtaxes, pay a fine of at least $2,000, complete a six-year temporary worker program, undergo background and criminal checks and "go to the end of the line" to wait for their adjustment of status. He acknowledges that mass deportation simply is not feasible. "I have yet to hear a single proponent of this point of view offer one realistic proposal for locating, apprehending, and returning to their countries of origin over 11 million people. How do we do that?"

His views on temporary workers? The provision in his bill creating the new temporary worker program would have required employers to show that they could not hire an American worker first. And unlike the Bracero program, workers would be allowed to switch jobs. Senator McCain's support for a guest worker program is partially fueled by his belief that immigrants take jobs that Americans don't want. When speaking to union leaders from the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department he made this very statement and was practically booed off stage. He asked them rhetorically if any of them would take a job picking lettuce even for $50 an hour. To his surprise, there were takers in the audience. McCain then argued that they wouldn't have the stamina for a season of that kind of work upon which we rely on immigrant workers. The crowd was angered by this response.

Border enforcement with a focus on new technology is always a focus of his speeches on immigration and the McCain-Kennedy bill did include significant border security provisions. "...first and foremost among our priorities was to ensure our bill included strong border security and enforcement provisions. We need to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has the resources it needs to secure our borders to the greatest extent possible. These include man power, vehicles, and detention facilities for those apprehended. But we also need to take a 21st century approach to this 21st century problem. We need to create virtual barriers as well, through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, ground censors, cameras, vehicle barriers, advanced communications systems and the most up to date security technologies available to us."

Although he has stated his support for extending a wall along populated areas of the border, he said early on that he was not in favor of constructing a wall across the entire border. For less populated areas he called for high-tech surveillance. However, when the "Secure Fence Act", which called for the installation of 700 miles of fencing along the border, was up for a vote in September he voted for it despite the bill's enforcement-only focus. He said he supported it as an "interim" measure.

Senator McCain's proposals come in response to what he calls a broken immigration system, which to him is "de facto amnesty".

"[W]hat we have allowed to be in effect is a de facto amnesty, where, for all practical purposes, a permanent underclass of people live within our borders illegally, fearfully, subserviently, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most of these people aren't going anywhere. No matter how much we improve border security. No matter the penalties we impose on their employers. No matter how seriously they are threatened with punishment. We won't find most of them."

And unlike many of the immigration hardliners who cannot distinguish between immigrants and national security threats, McCain is clear. "There are people who wish to come here to do us harm, and we must vigilantly guard against them, spend whatever it takes, devote as much manpower to the task as necessary. But we must also find some way to separate those who have come here for the same reasons every immigrant has come here from those who are driven here by their hate for us and our ideals. We must concentrate our resources on the latter and persuade the former to come out from the shadows."

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Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 14, 2007 in Immigration | Labor | Politics | The Candidates on Immigration
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