The comprehensive immigration reform bill has received the “broadest coalition of support” U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. has seen in his many years of legislation.
That’s what the longtime senator told more than 150 people in a town hall meeting at the Herbert K. Abrams Public Health Center on Aug. 13.
McCain is a member of the bipartisan group known as the Gang of Eight that is spearheading the immigration reform effort that would allow an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
The 76-year-old senator said extensive support and input has been received from a number of various organizations such as the Congressional Budget Office, ALFCIO, and Arizona Chamber of Commerce, among others.
The bill saw similar support when it went to the Senate floor in June, easily passing by a 68-32 margin, though it has yet to see that type of progress in the House of Representatives as some Republicans refuse to bring it to the floor for a vote.
McCain says the bill is the best option on the table despite its flaws.
“I believe this legislation is not perfect. I don’t think that any legislation that is a series of compromises that need to be made is perfect,” said McCain.
But the bigger problem, says McCain, is the millions of people already residing in the country illegally.
“In my view, that’s de facto amnesty because I don’t believe any of us think we are going to round up 11 million people and send them back to wherever they came from,” he said.
The bill would allow illegal immigrants who arrived before December 2011 a 10-year probationary work period. Following that, those immigrants could apply for a green card, assuming they pay a fee, back taxes, pass a background check, learn English, and get in line behind those who have applied to come to the country legally.
Expanded options would be made for those immigrants in the Dreamers and agricultural programs. Post-graduate students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program would also be allowed legal status upon graduation.
“Over half the students in post-graduate (in those fields) are non-citizens of the country, so we would give those students an opportunity to stay in the United States with a green card, rather than go back to India or China, or wherever they came from,” said McCain.
In order to make the bill effective, McCain says the border will need to be 90 percent secured, which would be accomplished with increased surveillance technology.
An e-verify program would also go into effect to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
While mixed input was given from audience members regarding immigration reform – some applauding his leadership, others questioning the logistics behind it – McCain was repeatedly thanked for his recent vote on background checks for gun purchases.
John Green, father of the 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who was gunned down at a local Safeway, was the first to do so.
He asked for a sit-down with McCain and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R- Ariz., to further discuss gun reform options. Flake, along with the majority of the Senate, voted against background checks for gun-buyers earlier this year.
“I think all of us, whether we agree or don’t agree, there are some things that can be done,” Green told McCain, who in turn said he would be honored to embrace further dialogue.
In the near-two hour town hall, McCain fielded questions on a variety of other issues, from sequestration to health care to racism in politics.
He called his support for sequestration “the dumbest vote” he’s ever made while in Congress.
“Sequestration is not the answer. Sequestration was a cop-out on the part of Congress, because instead of making the specific reductions that needed to be made, we made across the board cuts,” said McCain, who acknowledged the result has been devastating to such things as military funding.
Asked whether he thought racial agenda had anything to do with partisan politics, McCain strongly rejected the notion.
“What motivates my colleagues is a fundamental, philosophical difference about the role of government in society,” said McCain.
The meeting closed with an emotional moment as McCain hugged a Rita Garcia, a disabled woman who, with tears in her eyes, asked for McCain’s help when it came to recent cuts in her disability benefits.
McCain offered his reassurance, promising to have members of his staff explore options for her.
The day before his stop in Tucson, McCain appeared in Phoenix, where he spent the morning reporting for jury duty (from which he was released), and the afternoon at a roundtable discussion with the Arizona and Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.