McCain Still Dogged by Immigration Issue

Ron Claiborne, ABC News, December 26, 2007

When Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., campaigns in Iowa this week, sooner or later, he will surely be asked at a town hall event about one issue that has bedeviled him for months: illegal immigration.

It comes up at almost every stop, no matter what state he’s in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan or South Carolina.

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For many of those same voters, McCain co-sponsor of the immigration bill that died in Congress earlier this year is on the wrong side of the issue.

The McCain-Kennedy bill there’s nothing like coupling your name to Ted Kennedy’s to automatically enrage some conservatives would create a path to so-called earned citizenship for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. To some voters, earned citizenship for someone who came into the country illegally is tantamount to amnesty.

These days, when questions about immigration are asked, McCain says he ‘got the message.’

‘The message is the American people want the border secured,’ McCain told the woman who asked him at the event in Weare, N.H., about his stand on ‘illegal aliens.’

‘Secure the Border’

‘I will secure the border and I would have the border state governors certify that their border are secure,’ he said, ‘Then, we would move onto other issues,’ such as what to do about those illegal immigrants already in the country.

He hasn’t exactly renounced the bill he championed in the spring, but he has fine-tuned his position and changed the emphasis to assure the skeptics and critics and there are many that dealing with the fate of those already in the country only occurs after the borders are secured.

‘I still believe we have to have a temporary worker program that works and addresses the issues of the 12 million people that are here illegally,’ McCain said in Weare, racing through this part of his answer in much the same way announcers do with the disclaimers at the end of pharmaceutical commercials.

Then, more slowly, more emphatically, he added: ‘But we’ve got to first secure the borders to assure the American people that if you address the other parts of the issue we will not have another 12 million illegal immigrant come into our country.’

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McCain may have yielded to public sentiment in how he parses his words now on the immigration issue.

God’s Children

But he almost always appends a comment similar to what he said at the Republican debate in Florida in November: ‘We need to sit down as Americans and recognize these are God’s children as well.’

This issue has dogged McCain for nearly a year, and he just cannot shake it.

His campaign faltered in the spring largely over his stands on immigration and the Iraq War.

His aides say they knew both would be a problem for him, but they just didn’t expect immigration to be as big a problem as it turned out to be.

‘We knew it would be a minefield, but boy howdy,’ McCain political strategist John Weaver is quoted saying in the current issue of Esquire. ‘We might have been overly optimistic that we could tiptoe our way through it.’

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