An Associated Press article claimed that Sen. John McCain “is respected by many Hispanics for refusing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment over the years.” But the AP reported in November 2007 that McCain now “emphasizes securing the borders first” and quoted McCain stating: “I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift. ... I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.”
A July 13 Associated Press article, headlined “Hispanic voters pose challenge in their diversity, making for awkward outreach by candidates,” asserted that Sen. John McCain “is respected by many Hispanics for refusing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment over the years.” However, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, McCain has reversed his position on immigration to more closely conform to the views of the GOP base. 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. McCain further stated during the January 30 Republican presidential debate that he would not vote for the comprehensive reform bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) if it came to a vote on the Senate floor. A November 4, 2007, AP article reporting on McCain's reversal noted that McCain now “emphasizes securing the borders first,” and also quoted McCain stating: “I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift. ... I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.”
From the November 4, 2007, AP article (retrieved from the Nexis news database):
John McCain spent months earlier this year arguing that the United States must combine border security efforts with a temporary worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.
“I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift,” McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. “I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.”
The shift in approach is likely to draw criticism from McCain's GOP opponents. Immigration has been a flash point in the race, with rivals Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson all seizing on it.
McCain, who has led on the issue in the Senate with Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, got a wake-up call of sorts in June when Congress again failed to enact a broad immigration proposal that he championed and that split the country.
The measure also exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party, and McCain's high-profile support for it hurt him politically. During debate on the issue as spring turned into summer, the Arizona senator saw his poll numbers in some early primary states slip and his fundraising wane.
Early in the year, McCain told Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voters the country must take a comprehensive approach strengthening the borders as well as creating a temporary worker program and providing millions of illegal immigrants the opportunity to earn citizenship if they meet certain criteria.
Over the past few months, he has stressed border security first and said border-state governors should certify their borders are secure before making other needed immigration changes.
McCain said he listened to what the public was saying when the legislation failed and responded accordingly.
“I said, OK. We'll secure the borders, but after we secure the borders, we'll have a temporary worker program, we'll have to address the 12 million people here illegally, and I think the best way is the proposal that we had,” McCain said.
“It's not a switch in position. I support the same solution. But we've got to secure the borders first,” he added.
In a March 3 New York Times article, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote, “Senator John McCain likes to present himself as the candidate of the ”Straight Talk Express" who does not pander to voters or change his positions with the political breeze. But the fine print of his record in the Senate indicates that he has been a lot less consistent on some of his signature issues than he has presented himself to be so far in his presidential campaign." The article stated that McCain “has also expressed varying positions on immigration, torture, abortion and Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary.” On immigration, Bumiller wrote:
Mr. McCain has also moved from his original position on immigration. In 2005, he joined forces with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, to co-sponsor an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Although the legislation included toughening border security, its center was a provision that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for many of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Conservatives immediately branded the bill as amnesty and fired steadily at Mr. McCain. After seeing his campaign and his fund-raising efforts derail last summer -- which his advisers attributed in large part to his position on immigration -- Mr. McCain now says that he got the message from voters. These days he speaks almost exclusively about border security, although he does say that it is not possible to deport 12 million illegal immigrants and that he would never deport the mother of a soldier serving in Iraq.
Additionally, in a June 20 Politico piece, contributing columnist and Washington journalist Gebe Martinez reported on McCain's reversal on immigration:
McCain, the Arizona senator, dismayed Latinos last year when he stepped back from his immigration bill that would have tightened the borders and legalized undocumented immigrants. As boos and hisses from angry Republican conservatives grew louder at campaign events, he switched course and vowed to “first” secure the borders. Were his failed bill to come up again, he would not vote for it, he said.
Trying to regain Latino support, McCain has chastised Republicans who stoke the fires of the immigration at election time. And at a private meeting with Chicago-area Latinos last week, he promised to push for a comprehensive immigration bill.
“It sounds like he's trying to have it both ways, and it's not convincing anyone,” said Frank Sharry, who also was involved in immigration bill negotiations when he headed the National Immigration Forum.
This is not the McCain Hispanics thought they knew. Even after the 2001 terrorist attacks placed an emphasis on national security, McCain's speeches to Latino audiences and on the Senate floor prioritized the compassionate side of the immigration argument.
He understood that border security “first” means “deportation only” in the eyes of immigrant activists, and he championed a broader approach.
As the Senate mulled immigration in 2006, McCain often stood in the Capitol's corridors, pounding his fist in the air, arguing that border enforcement would not work without simultaneously penalizing employers who hire workers illegally, creating a temporary worker program and finding a way to bring 12 million illegal immigrants “out of the shadows” of society.
“It won't work! It won't work!” he protested of suggestions to do enforcement first. The stool cannot stand on one leg.
From the July 13 AP article:
Both candidates are pressing their case in three speeches in as many weeks to Hispanic umbrella groups and working in other ways to make their outreach more sophisticated. Republicans have opened an office in Orlando, where most of the state's Puerto Ricans live, and Obama opens one this week in Ybor City
They've both got their work cut out for them in appealing to a large and growing segment of the population that has leaned Democratic but has not always been motivated to vote. A recent AP-Yahoo News poll found Obama leading McCain 47 percent to 22 percent among Hispanic voters, with 26 percent undecided.
McCain is respected by many Hispanics for refusing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment over the years. Yet he is viewed in some Latin quarters as a sequel to the unpopular President Bush, a problem he has with voters at large, too.
Obama's vitality and soaring oratory appeal to Hispanics just as they do to others. Whoops of approval were heard throughout his speech this week to the League of United Latin American Citizens' convention.