WASHINGTON (CNN) - "Examine the bill," was Sen. John McCain's response to a question at Tuesday's GOP presidential debate, asking if the new immigration bill before Congress is amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Referring to opponents of the legislation who say that the proposed pathway to citizenship amounts to amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, the Arizona Republican said, "Honestly, with people like that, and I respect their views, anything short of deportation is, quote, 'amnesty.' "
"What we're doing is making it very tough and making them pay heavy penalty for having violated our laws," McCain said in explaining the immigration bill he helped craft.
Among the proposed requirements for illegal immigrants seeking to stay in the United States, they would have to go through a years-long process for permanent residency or eventual citizenship, pay a fine, and leave the U.S. for their home country and apply for reentry.
McCain has had to defend his position on immigration while on the campaign trail and during the presidential debate in the key primary state of New Hampshire.
–CNN Political Researcher Xuan Thai