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McCain: Immigration reform 'difficult, but achievable'

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McCain: Immigration reform 'difficult, but achievable'

  • McCain campaigning with now-Sen. Jeff Flake in October.
    Gage Skidmore/FlickrMcCain campaigning with now-Sen. Jeff Flake in October.

U.S. Sen. John McCain delivered the following statement Monday on the bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform released today with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ):

The introduction of these principles is the first step in what will be a very difficult, but achievable, reform to our immigration system.

No one here needs reminding that the last major attempt at immigration reform was over six years ago. Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system, and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally.

I am the first to admit that the security situation along the Southwest border is not perfect. There remain several areas, particularly in Arizona, where people's homes are being invaded, where drug smugglers are crossing property every night. These citizens deserve the same level of security that all of us standing here have. But there is no question there has been a significant reduction in illegal crossings over the past five years. Apprehensions of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol have dropped 70 percent from 2005 to 2012 – from 1,189,075 down to 340,252. But as we all acknowledge, the work is not yet complete.

Greater focus needs to be paid to drug traffickers and criminals that cross the border. Arizona continues to be a major smuggling corridor and distribution hub for drug trafficking organizations. According to the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, 36 percent of marijuana seizures along the Southwest border happen in Arizona. Often, scouts and spotters employed by drug cartels are used to assist backpackers hauling drugs through the Western Desert.

To combat this, we need to continue to invest in UAVs, radar, and other proven surveillance systems that will give Border Patrol the ability to detect and apprehend all illegal entries into the United States. This is achievable and can be completed within the next few years if we truly commit to it.

After the border is secure, the next most important step to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of 1986 immigration reform is to build out a nation-wide electronic employment verification system that will end the hiring of future unauthorized workers. Coupled with increased fines on employers that knowingly hire illegal workers, I believe we will be able to effectively shut off the magnet that attracts illegal workers to the U.S.

Just as critical, we will put in place a legal worker program to provide a humane and effective system that allows immigrant workers to enter the country without seeking the aid of human traffickers or drug cartels. Any immigration legislation that passes Congress must establish practical legal channels for workers to enter the United States – whether they are high skill, low skill, or agriculture workers, so we can free up federal officials to focus on those individuals truly intending to do our nation harm through drug smuggling, people trafficking and possibly terrorism.

Providing an expedited path to citizenship for DREAMers, developing a measurement to determine when the border is truly secure, reforming our future immigration system to better meet the needs of our employers, ensuring an entry-exit system to combat visa overstays, and creating a program that makes certain U.S. agriculture has the necessary workers to maintain America's food supply, are just some of the issues that we have committed to addressing – and solving – in a bipartisan manner.

And, finally, we come to the most controversial piece of immigration reform. That is how to deal with the approximately 11 million people living in the United States outside of legal status.

What is going on now is not acceptable. In reality, what has been created is a defacto amnesty. We, the American people, have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve us food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.

I think everyone here agrees that it is not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let's create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfill the necessary requirements to become law abiding citizens of this country. This is consistent with our countries tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

John McCain is a Republican Senator from Arizona.

Immigration reform FAQ

Questions and answers about the immigration reform proposal, released by McCain's office:

Q. What are the major differences between this legislation and what was last proposed in 2007?

A: Many of the problems we faced in 2007 remain today. Fortunately, so do many of the solutions. What has changed significantly is the number of people coming across the border illegally. In fact, net migration from Mexico is zero. The struggling economy plays a big part in this, but so does the increases in Border Patrol agents, newly deployed technologies, and improved infrastructure that has been built out over the past decade.

Q: This isn't the first time you've tried to pass bipartisan immigration reform. Why do you think it will pass this time?

A: The politics of the issue have changed, and changed dramatically. If you look at the polls when it comes to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for certain immigrants without papers, the American people are there. Americans support it, and it's the right thing to do.

Q. Republicans have been saying since 2007 that until the border is secure immigration reform should not be addressed. At what point did the border become secure?

A: We still have work to do along the border. Customs and Border Protection need new and better technology to monitor and detect drug smugglers and other illegal entries. However, there has been a 70 percent reduction in apprehensions from 2005 to today and net migration from Mexico is at zero. Now is the time to take on comprehensive reform.

Q. Will this proposal do anything to combat drug trafficking along the Southwest border?

A. Yes. Arizona is currently a major smuggling corridor and distribution hub for drug trafficking organizations. In fact, over 36 percent of marijuana drug seizures along the Southwest border take place in Arizona. Creating a guest worker program to provide a legal system that allows immigrant workers to enter the country will enable Border Patrol to focus on drug smugglers and other serious criminals.

Q. How will the proposal enhance our national security?

A. Under the current unworkable system, our Border Patrol agents spend too much time going after people entering the country looking for work and not on drug smugglers and terrorists. Border Patrol apprehend roughly 400,000 illegal immigrants trying to cross into the country each year, and many more manage to slip by them – all without vetting or controls of any kind. Our proposal seeks to end this unacceptable state of affairs by funneling laborers into a legal guest worker program, freeing up federal agents to focus their energy on securing the border and protecting Americans against terrorists and criminals.

Our proposal will also enhance security within the United States by encouraging millions of currently undocumented workers to come forward and register with the government. The goal: to shrink and eventually eliminate the undocumented population, to dry up the smuggling trade and put document forgers out of business – depriving would-be terrorists of the illegal support system they currently exploit in immigrant communities.

Q. Will this legislation help reduce the violence and other chaos that illegal immigration currently generates in border states – the trespassing, the smuggler violence, the deaths along the frontier?

A. Yes, that is one of the primary goals of our plan. A guest worker program is designed to give workers coming illegally to do jobs we need done a safe, orderly, legal way to enter the United States. Most will prefer the new legal path. Those wishing to come to America to work will no longer have to risk the long, dangerous, illegal journey. There will be less and less demand for the services of smugglers: in addition to safety issues, it will be cheaper to come the legal way. And authorized migrants will cross the border at our designated ports of entry, restoring the rule of law to the lands along the border.

Q. Won't this bill lead to more illegal immigration?

A. No. The goal of the bill is to replace the current illegal flow with legal workers by giving the foreign workers our economy needs a safe, orderly, legal way to enter the country. Once every available job is filled by an authorized worker, and it is impossible – as it will be under this program – to get work without a valid visa, there will be much less incentive for other migrants to cross the border illegally. Far fewer employers will need to resort to illegal workers, and those who do – the truly unscrupulous, exploitative minority – can be targeted with enforcement and tough new penalties.

Q. Won't the new, temporary workers undercut American workers by taking their jobs?

A. No. As study after study of the labor market shows, American workers don't generally compete with immigrants – they don't generally want the low-paying, low-skilled jobs that immigrant workers come to fill. Our native-born work force is getting older. It's shrinking – remember, our birth rates are falling. As a nation we are more and more educated. In 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school and went into the unskilled labor force. Today only 10 percent of the native-born drop out. And few American families now raise their children to be busboys or to work out in the fields.

Further, our legislation will include a variety of measures designed to protect U.S. workers. We agree that any legislation should mandate that employers who are considering hiring an immigrant worker must first try to hire a U.S. worker.

Q. How will this program be funded?

A. The program will be funded in large part by fees collected from immigrant workers – both new guest workers and the previously undocumented. The monies will be used for registering the undocumented, processing visas and other applications, enhancing enforcement, and providing English and civics education to immigrants.

Q. Would your principles provide additional government entitlements for immigrants?

A. No. Our proposal would make no changes to current law regarding what federal benefits immigrants are eligible for.

Q. Does your proposal plan to do anything to help the people waiting patiently in line in their home countries?

A. Yes. We all agree that we must reduce backlogs in the family and employment visa categories so that future immigrants view our future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States. We will also reform the system to reduce the likelihood of future backlogs.

Q. But won't the program still reward people who have broken the law at the expense of those who have followed the rules and waited their turn outside the country?

A. No. Individuals who are present without lawful status will only receive a green card after every individual who is already waiting in line for a green card, at the time this legislation is enacted, has received their green card. No one who has violated America's immigration laws will receive preferential treatment as they relate to those individuals who have complied with the law.

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