McCain in GV: Immigration reform requires secured border
Promoting immigration reform that requires more border security, including the deployment of fencing and technology used in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Sen. John McCain spoke to an overflow crowd at a town hall in Green Valley on Tuesday.
McCain began the event by talking about the impact of automatic spending cuts, which he said will cost Arizona 49,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion in economic output if Congress doesn't come to a deal before a March 1 deadline. Arizona's dependence on defense spending from military contractors like Raytheon and large military bases makes for painful consequences as sequestration deal struck by Congress includes $500 billion in defense cuts as well as $700 billion to other government programs.
The Republican senator called sequestration a "meat cleaver" that would affect national defense.
"The economy is beginning to crawl back in Arizona and this could be a big blow. The impact is on Raytheon, Boeing" and other contractors, he told the crowd at the Green Valley Community Performance Art Center.
According to charts displayed behind him, Arizona would loose $101 million in education, health and labor programs, while also enduring an economic loss of $4.9 billion in gross state product. The cuts would also slash 300 health-care jobs, 700 education jobs, and 35,000 defense jobs.
McCain took a shot at the president, saying "Rather than the commander-in-chief, he's the campaigner in chief" — a line that led to wide applause in the packed rehearsal studio.
McCain spoke for 25 minutes and then took questions from the audience for nearly an hour, working hard to promote his vision of comprehensive immigration reform, a "complex issue" that would create a system for temporary farm workers; immigrant workers for the performance of high-tech jobs; and low-wage jobs if the company can show a need.
There will also be a provision for the "Dreamers" — those brought into the country illegally as young children who have joined the military or are going to college, he said.
The Green Valley crowd was more receptive to McCain's immigration proposals than a Sun Lakes crowd later in the day. In the community near Chandler, reports said an afternoon town hall was contentious after McCain described his stance.
In addition, McCain wants provisions that would require the 11 million people in the country illegally to pay fines and back taxes, learn English, pass a background check, and standby while legal immigrants are given citizenship.
"They should go to the back of the line," he said.
However, before this can happen the border must be secured, McCain said, using technology from counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan since any form of reform would create a "third wave" of immigrants without new security efforts. He noted that President Ronald Reagan had a similar effort, but according to McCain a lack of border security created the current problem.
After the town hall, McCain met with reporters and said that metrics needed to be developed to evaluate border security, but would not speak about specifics.
McCain also presented the idea of a secure Social Security card that would include challenge questions, saying that the technology existed. He also pushed for new employer sanctions.
Part of a bipartisan group of eight senators working toward an immigration bill, McCain said he was hopeful and expected Congress to take action since 77 percent of the public supports reform.
During the question period, Sahuarita resident Amie Bradshaw asked why citizens should be subject to Border Patrol checkpoints, including the one on I-19 near Tubac.
McCain said, "I'm not in favor of fixed security checkpoints. I think any smuggler worth his salt will go around them."
However, McCain said "the country needs to have this conversation." While the Yuma Sector is secure, he said, the Tucson Sector is a "long, long way" from being secure. McCain noted that smugglers use secure electronic communications with observers from the border to Phoenix, allowing them to evade law enforcement.
McCain also mentioned guns, referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system used by firearms dealers to check the eligibility of gun buyers. According to his chart, 80,000 people failed the background check, but only 44 were prosecuted for attempting to buy weapons. McCain argued that prosecutions should be increased and that the right to bear arms should be respected.
Using Jan. 8 gunman Jared Loughner as an example, McCain said the system failed to keep him from obtaining the weapon he used to shoot former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others.
Green Valley resident Marilyn Kern, who teaches citizenship classes, pushed McCain to "say something positive about Democrats" and the country, since he sounded so negative. McCain pointed out several examples of bipartisanship in his talk. As he walked back to the front of the crowd, he said "I'd like to tell you this country is in good shape, but it's not."