As Obama Heads To Mexico, McCain Pushes Forward On Immigration Reform
Legislation that would provide legal residency to an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States could garner as many as 70 votes in the U.S. Senate come June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.
“We need it because there is going to have to be significant pressures brought to bear on our friends on the other side of the Capitol,” McCain said.
Central to the success of pending immigration reform is the coalition of business and labor interests, faith-based organizations and grassroots immigrant rights groups who are exerting pressure on members of the U.S. House of Representatives. There, the debate over the bill is expected to be a contentious one.
“The coalition, if they are as active as I think they are going to be I am very optimistic,” McCain said.
The comments came during the USC Schwarzenegger Institute Forum on Immigration Reform, which drew several hundred people to campus. Joining McCain was Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a fellow member of the Group of Eight, a cohort of U.S. senators leading efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, and former Mexican President Vicente Fox.
The forum took place one day before the May Day rallies, staged in major cities across the United States each May 1 since 2006. They draw thousands of reform-seeking immigrants and immigrant supporters into the streets. In Los Angeles, the demonstration will start at noon at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway, and terminate at Olvera Street.
The event at USC also came just two days before President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Mexico, his first trip south of the border since the election of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto.
If immigration reformers are able to shepherd the current bill through the White House, it will mark the first major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system since 1986 when nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants gained legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
Since then, there have been some modest policy changes, as well as several false starts. Among the most prominent was in 2001 when U.S. and Mexican presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox were deep into negotiations to revamp immigration policy.
“Everything was planned, everything moved ahead,” Fox recounted Tuesday. “The signs were optimistic, were positive. On Sept. 7, I was here on an official visit on Washington. I had the honor and the opportunity to address both chambers of Congress, and everyone was ready to go.”
Four days later, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks threw the process into disarray. In the subsequent years, the U.S. federal government would spend tens of billions of dollars in an effort to seal its borders.
Still, 12 years later, there is both the political will and compelling economic and demographic evidence to drive forward reform, Fox said.
“The number one beneficiary from this reform is the United States, it is the United States economy,” Fox said. “It is going to regain the lost competitiveness. It is going to regain the capacity to grow and conquer more markets throughout the world.”
Under the terms of the 2013 bill, immigrants who arrived in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011 would qualify for legal residency as long as they have a clean criminal record and pay the necessary fees and all back taxes. The 13-year road to citizenship would also require participants to work, learn English and otherwise demonstrate themselves to be contributing members of society.
“This was not the most controversial part of the discussion for the Group of Eight because there was general agreement that we believe in a country where we don’t have a subclass of people,” Bennet said.
While the bill is important to the 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States, it has other serious implications.
“There are many other aspects of this bill as well that are incredibly important to our economy going forward,” Bennet said. “For example a dramatic expansion in high-tech visas that will allow people to come in and put their skills and talents to work in the United States instead of going home.”
The bill will allow the United States to retain brainpower passing through U.S. academic institutions, McCain added.
“Over the half of the students who are taking advanced degrees in science and technology in this country are not from this country, many of them want to stay and work in this country,” McCain said. “We are now going to allow that to happen.”
Reach reporter Megan O'Neil here.