McCain courts His­panic vot­ers, shuns party line on im­mi­gra­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Sen. John McCain said May 5 that Repub­li­cans have shed sup­port among His­panic vot­ers be­cause of the party’s get-tough approach to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, but he pre­dicted that his en­force­ment-then-le­gal­iza­tion approach will re­build those bridges.

Us­ing a Mex­i­can hol­i­day, Cinco de Mayo, as a launch­ing point, Mr. McCain’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign an­nounced a Span­ish-lan­guage Web site (­panol), and said the sen­a­tor from Ari­zona will speak to this year’s Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza con­ven­tion in San Diego in July to try to court His­panic vot­ers.

“I be­lieve the ma­jor­ity of the His­pan­ics share our view that the border must be se­cured, and the border must be se­cured first. But they also want us to have an at­ti­tude, which I think most Amer­i­cans do, that th­ese are God’s chil­dren, and they must be taken care of, and the is­sue must be ad­dressed in a hu­mane and com­pas­sion­ate fash­ion,” Mr. McCain told re­porters at an Ari­zona news con­fer­ence.

His­panic sup­port for Pres­i­dent Bush in the 2004 elec­tion topped 40 per­cent by most es­ti­mates, but has fallen in the wake of the con­gres­sional im­mi­gra­tion de­bate.

Now, nearly a year af­ter the Se­nate re­jected the im­mi­gra­tion le­gal­iza­tion bill sup­ported by Mr. McCain, Mr. Bush and Demo­cratic lead­ers, the is­sue is ris­ing again, but a vi­able so­lu­tion seems no closer.

House Democrats want a com­pro­mise that would al­low more for­eign work­ers for farms, high­tech firms and sea­sonal busi- nesses, but the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus has said it will op­pose such a bill un­less it also al­lows for some form of le­gal sta­tus for cur­rent il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Mean­while, a vo­cal group of con­ser­va­tive Democrats and Repub­li­cans is de­mand­ing an en­force­men­tonly approach.

On May 6, the House held a hear­ing on an en­force­ment bill that would re­quire em­ploy­ers to check a gov­ern­ment data­base known as the E-Ver­ify sys­tem be­fore they hire. That bill is spon­sored by Rep. Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Demo­crat who has bro­ken with his party’s gen­eral stance on im­mi­gra­tion, and is backed by House Repub­li­cans who are run­ning a pe­ti­tion drive to try to force a floor vote on the mea­sure.

On May 5, U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices an­nounced it was adding new data­bases to the E- Ver­ify sys­tem to re­duce false hits for nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens whose work-au­tho­riza­tion records aren’t up-to-date. That should cut more than half of false hits, agency of­fi­cials said.

Mr. McCain, the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, has tried to strad­dle the line on im­mi­gra­tion af­ter his sup­port for le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants nearly cost him the nom­i­na­tion.

In 2006 and 2007, he was a chief backer, along with Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, of a bill to le­gal­ize most il­le­gal im­mi­grants and to dra­mat­i­cally boost im­mi­gra­tion. Last year, that bill failed when a ma­jor­ity of sen­a­tors joined a fil­i­buster to block it.

Some op­po­nents said the bill amounted to a le­nient “amnesty,” while oth­ers called it too harsh.

Mr. McCain said the bill failed be­cause vot­ers didn’t trust the gov- ern­ment to han­dle the se­cu­rity side. Since then, he has said his first pri­or­ity would be to se­cure the borders and re­quire border state gov­er­nors to cer­tify that be­fore turn­ing his at­ten­tion to a le­gal­iza­tion pro­gram for the coun­try’s il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee said he will have to choose be­tween en­force­ment or le­gal­iza­tion. The Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illi­nois, have said they would al­low for le­gal­iza­tion.

“It’s hard to know what some­one’s real vi­sion for our coun­try is when they con­sis­tently take ev­ery side of the is­sues,” said DNC spokesman Luis Mi­randa. “John McCain can­not have it both ways. He can­not pan­der to the right wing of his party by promis­ing an en­force­ment-only approach to im­mi­gra­tion while telling His­pan­ics that he sup­ports com­pre­hen­sive re­form.”

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates said an en­force­ment-first approach is still too harsh.

“Anti-im­mi­grant-light is no more ac­cept­able than anti-im­mi­grant,” said Eliseo Me­d­ina, in­ter­na­tional ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union, who added that the proper so­lu­tion was to of­fer le­gal sta­tus across the board. “Let’s le­gal­ize ev­ery­body, and then let’s fig­ure out what we need to do to en­sure we have a le­gal pro­gram go­ing for­ward.”

Mr. McCain has ac­knowl­edged his close call with vot­ers on this is­sue in the pri­maries. Asked whether he feared voter back­lash again in the gen­eral elec­tion, the sen­a­tor said that’s out of his hands.

“I don’t know, but I can’t worry about that,” he said.

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