Washington (CNN) - Sen. John McCain defended his state's controversial immigration law, arguing Monday on the Senate floor that Arizona needed to approve the tough new measure to ensure the safety of its citizens.
"This situation is the worst I've ever seen," declared McCain. "If you don't like the bill - the legislation that the legislature passed and the governor signed in Arizona, then carry out the federal responsibilities, which are to secure the border."
McCain is locked in tough primary battle, and immigration has become a central issue.
He recently released a 10-point plan for the federal government to tighten the Arizona-Mexican border. It calls for the completion of 700 miles of fencing and assigning 3,000 National Guard troops to the region.
"This is a struggle on our side of the border for the fundamental obligation that any government has, and that is to provide its citizens with secure borders. Right now our citizens are not safe," he said.
Signed into law on Friday, the Arizona measure requires police to determine whether a person is in the United States legally, and immigrants will need to carry their alien registration documents at all times. Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling, a notion both Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and McCain dismiss.
"Many have viewed this as a civil rights issue. There's no intention whatsoever to violate anyone's civil rights," said McCain. "But this is a national security issue. This is a national security issue where the United
States of America has an unsecured border between Arizona and Mexico, which has
led to violence."
McCain previously led congressional efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which would have included new border security along with a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented workers. That legislation faltered in 2007, but not before McCain was lambasted for his position by many fellow
One critic, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, is now forcefully challenging McCain in the Republican primary, highlighting his opponent's prior support for comprehensive immigration reform. Hayworth is running to McCain's right and showcasing their differences - past and present - on the issue.