The Des Moines Register asserted that Sen. John McCain is a "supporter of comprehensive immigration reform" without noting that he now says he would not support his bill if it came up for a vote in the Senate, and that he has reversed himself on a key issue. Similarly, the Associated Press reported that "[t]he three leading candidates for president have somewhat similar views on illegal immigration reform," but did not note McCain's reversals.
A March 6 Des Moines Register editorial asserted that "[Sen. John] McCain, [Sen. Hillary] Clinton and [Sen. Barack] Obama all have advocated for a practical, compassionate approach to dealing with the estimated 12 million people here without documentation. They know a more secure border is needed. So are realistic immigration quotas to meet U.S. work-force demands and reunify families." The Register added: "Whichever candidate wins the White House will be a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform." In fact, during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he "would not" support his original comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor. Moreover, McCain now says that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- a position at odds with his prior assertion that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective.
Similarly, a March 5 Associated Press article reported that "[t]he three leading candidates for president have somewhat similar views on illegal immigration reform," adding, "Presumptive Republican candidate John McCain sponsored a 2006 bill that would have offered illegal immigrants legal status, on the condition they learned English, paid fines and back taxes and passed a background check. He supports a border fence and recently said securing borders is a chief concern." The article did not note McCain's shift away from comprehensive immigration reform, or his stated opposition to his own comprehensive immigration proposal.
In his February 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), McCain asserted that "[o]n the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign." After claiming that "we failed" on immigration, McCain stated: "I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration."
But in a March 30, 2006, Senate floor statement, McCain said: "While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms." He further stated: "[A]s long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful." Arguing that "[o]ur reforms need to reflect that reality," McCain said, "We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled."
While McCain has shifted to a position of "border security first," both Clinton and Obama continue to support "comprehensive immigration reform." During the February 22 CNN-Univision debate, Clinton said:
CLINTON: We need comprehensive immigration reform. I have been for this. I signed on to the first comprehensive bill back in 2004. I've been advocating for it. Tougher, more secure borders -- of course. But let's do it the right way: cracking down on employers, especially once we get to comprehensive immigration reform, who exploit undocumented workers and drive down wages for everyone else. I'd like to see more federal help for communities like Austin and others, like Laredo where I was this morning, that absorb the health care, education and law enforcement costs. And I personally, as president, would work with our neighbors to the south to help them create more jobs for their own people.
And finally, we need a path to legalization to bring the immigrants out of the shadows, give them the conditions that we expect them to meet: paying a fine for coming here illegally, trying to pay back taxes over time, and learning English. If they had committed a crime in our country or the country they came from, then they should be deported. But for everyone else, there must be a path to legalization. I would introduce that in the first 100 days of my presidency.
During the same debate, Obama asserted:
OBAMA: We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants, and we can reconcile those two things.
So we need comprehensive reform -- we need comprehensive reform, and that means stronger border security. It means that we are cracking down on employers that are taking advantage of undocumented workers because they can't complain if they're not paid a minimum wage, they can't complain if they're not getting overtime, worker safety laws are not being observed. We have to crack down on those employers, although we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn't lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against. So there's got to be a -- a -- a safeguard there.
We have to require that undocumented workers, who are provided a pathway to citizenship, not only learn English, pay back taxes and pay a significant fine, but also that they're going to the back of the line, so that they're not getting citizenship before those who have applied legally, which raises two last points.
Numerous media outlets have reported McCain's past position on immigration without noting that he has since changed his position. In its December 15 endorsement of McCain for his party's presidential nomination -- which praised McCain for "taking stands based on principle, not party dogma" -- the Register inaccurately stated that McCain "continues to support comprehensive immigration reform -- while watching his poll standings plunge." In contrast to the AP and the Register, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller, in a March 3 article, noted that McCain has "moved from his original position on immigration," and that "McCain went so far at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in January to say that if his original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would not vote for it."
From the Associated Press article:
The three leading candidates for president have somewhat similar views on illegal immigration reform.
Presumptive Republican candidate John McCain sponsored a 2006 bill that would have offered illegal immigrants legal status, on the condition they learned English, paid fines and back taxes and passed a background check. He supports a border fence and recently said securing borders is a chief concern. Both Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama voted for the 2006 bill and a border fence.
Experts following the immigration debate claim Republicans had hoped illegal immigration would become a wedge issue between the two parties in the 2008 presidential election. But activists say, and exit poll data suggests, it's backfired. Mitt Romney, a once leading Republican candidate with the most stringent views on illegal immigration dropped out of the race last month and immigrants, particularly Latinos, have registered and are predicted to vote in unprecedented numbers.
Still, the issue of immigration reform has not resonated with voters as some hoped it would and debate on the issue has faded, particularly in non-border states.
From the Des Moines Register editorial:
With John McCain claiming the Republican nomination for president, Americans move closer to focusing on the issues they want the next president to address. And though Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still slugging it out for the Democratic nomination, it seems likely the nation's illegal-immigration crisis will be among those issues.
Watching TV coverage of polling places in Texas on Tuesday made it clear that Latinos will play a significant role in picking the next president. Many voters in that state and others have relatives in the country without documentation, or south of the border, who wish to legally live and work in the United States. That will influence the debate leading up to November's general election.
McCain, Clinton and Obama all have advocated for a practical, compassionate approach to dealing with the estimated 12 million people here without documentation. They know a more secure border is needed. So are realistic immigration quotas to meet U.S. work-force demands and reunify families.
Whichever candidate wins the White House will be a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. But it will take more than that to overcome the opposition. President Bush has supported reform, yet it repeatedly stalls in Congress.
A vocal minority has blocked action. So those who support comprehensive reform will have to become a vocal majority. After all, polls show most Americans want a path to earned citizenship for illegal immigrants in good standing otherwise.