June 5th, 2007
10:56 PM ET
12 years ago

McCain: It's not 'amnesty'

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

Filed under: John McCain • Race to '08
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Jerel Poor, St Louis Missouri

    Rewarding people with citizenship for breaking the law is amnesty. In 2000, I respected McCain for being honest and now someone has replaced him with a Bush puppet.

    ...McCain, like Bush is just wrong.

    June 5, 2007 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  2. Anthony Chiozza, Arlington, TX

    Actually....Yes it is... You are just such a clever word smith you hope it doesn't seem like it. I have news pal, Americans are smarter than that these days.

    June 5, 2007 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  3. william Irvine, Rochester, NY

    "“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." .... That is true if they choose to take the path to citizenship....but why go through that....they are now here legally!!!! They came here for jobs --- not citizenship. ....And are now eligible for entitlements. That is a bad deal for America

    June 5, 2007 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  4. shuangjia shang, palm beach, Fl

    First of all, no offense to the Hispanic immigrants!
    As myself one of the Non-Hispanic immigrants, I have complex feelings after hearing Sen. John McCain’s response on this question.
    I know that Hispanic immigrants are the largest population in our country, and we all appreciate what they’ve done to enrich our country. However, there are also many many Non-Hispanic immigrants, who did the exactly same thing to enrich our country, but they have to learn English. Making the requirement for instructions and written information in Spanish, as well as including clerks / stores/ business/ government offices to have Spanish speaking employees is a deterrent to the requirement to learn English. There is no need or incentive to learn English since any services they require Spanish will be spoken to them. This is also a definite bias favoring Spanish speaking immigrants, since other immigrants must learn English. No other language instructions /information or speakers are available for Non-Hispanic immigrants. There are Spanish speaking residents in United States who have never learned English.
    It should also be noted that the system for processing legal immigrants is not working. The government states that they process legal immigrant status for permanent residency occur within 120 to 180 days. Based on personal experience of the process taking 580 days and 560 days it appears that the present system can not efficiently process legal immigrants. It would be very interesting to see the actual average processing time. The system is inefficient lacks clarity and assistance for applicants. There is only one telephone number for the entirely United States to call for assistance. Anyone living in any state in United States who has question must call the same number that everyone else in the country has to call. The waiting time obvious is very extensive or you are advised that the wait is too long to stay connected. Therefore, numerous phone calls and extensive waiting occurs before you can speak to someone who can not even answer your questions. They generally try to transfer you to someone who may be being able to answer your question. Only, to be disconnected so that you must start the whole process over again.
    In regards to the new immigration plan there are some questions;
    1. If any illegal immigrant has been in this country for a number of years why would they register to join the new plan
    2. Why would they voluntarily pay $5,000 when they are here already?
    3. Why would they agree to go back to the country of their origins? Even if it is for a short time.
    4. If they are here with identification and established in the US why would they volunteer to sign up for the new plan?
    5. Does anyone really believe the “12 million” illegal immigrants will sign up for this new plan?
    6. If they weren’t discovered before the new plan they probably won’t be discovered after the plan. Therefore, it appears the new plan will change nothing and the old laws are not been enforced. -so what will change?! !!

    June 5, 2007 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  5. Cynthia B.

    It is amnesty wrapped up in a bill that is supposed to look like it is enforcing our immigration laws. McCain is a liar and a traitor to America for supporting this trash. I also noticed that his nose looked a little brown from following Bush so closely.

    McCain, American's do not want any form of compromise or amnesty for illegals. We demand that every one of these illegal criminals be deported and never given a chance to immigrate here. Let those who followed the laws by applying for citizenship be the ones to come here.

    June 5, 2007 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  6. Rex, Clearwater, FL

    If you came here illegally, you should never be allowed to become an American citizen. I have no problem with creating some sort of deal to let illegal yet otherwise upstanding (i.e. – employed, hard-working, law-abiding) residents stay...but their punishment for breaking our laws should be that they can never, ever become citizens of this country.

    June 5, 2007 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  7. Jinny, Lilburn, GA

    Sen. McCain stated in the debate tonight that his bill will call for sealing the borders for 18 months before anything else happens. I say, fine, let's seal the borders and then we can go back when that's done and vote on this bill. The immigration laws that are in place now have called for the enforcement of this same closing of the borders and it hasn't happened yet. So, let's just wait on his promise to seal the borders in 18 months and then we can take another look at his ideas. Based on our history, we won't be voting on this bill anytime soon.

    June 5, 2007 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  8. Phil, Alpharetta GA

    In Texas there is a saying: don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining.

    not amnesty..... RIGHT....not

    June 5, 2007 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  9. Tim, Orange, CA

    Rex, I think you're missing the point. The vast majority of illegals don't care about becoming citizens. They just want to take advantage of our system and take back America for Mexico a little at a time. And the idea of them paying any fines is a joke. They only pay if they want to become a citizen. When the bill makes them legal on day one, that is all they need. Then they will be able to bring in all there family members. So the 20Mil goes up to 30,40+

    McCain is selling out America.

    June 6, 2007 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  10. Bill Adams, Ventura, CA

    We have 15-20 million criminals who snuck into this country, have put a huge burden upon our schools and health system, and pay few taxes. To accommodate these criminal's children's lack of English, our schools have to dumb down the curriculum and all students suffer a poorer education. These criminals will reap the benefit of Social Security, with little or no contribution to that system. Our country has been invaded by a foreign power, yet little is being done to stop the flow or deport these criminals. Giving them amnesty is a gross breach of the public trust in elected officials. I will be voting against any candidate who is unwilling to secure our borders and evict the trespassers.

    June 6, 2007 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  11. Brett Huebner, Hillsboro, KS

    I am somewhat shocked this question hasn't gotten more comments, and the only reason I can think is that the disproportionate number of Ron Paul bloggers have less to say here because his wisdom was more eloquently expressed regarding the war. But this is perhaps the biggest domestic issue right now, and shows much greater public division than the war [the war is becoming less a matter of 'division', with everyone wanting out, but more a question of how to accomplish what everyone wants].
    I think Tancredo and Romney and others expressed what is a natural frustration. I prefer how Romney worded it to Tancredo, because Romney actually noted that it's those who have legally immigrated and who await legal immigration who are 'most' hurt by anything approaching amnesty. If you happen to have successfully 'cut in line' at the time this bill passes, you gambled well. Those who gambled years ago and were deported last week are less fortunate, but for an arbitrary reason.
    And yet, I would ask Rex and Rep. Tancredo whether they respect the persons who immigrte illegally. And further, can we understand why they took the risks they did. In some ways, I have often thought we Americans can be flattered that, unlike Communist nations and other dictatorships, we struggle to keep people OUT of our country instead of IN. That says something wonderful about our reputation. I have never lived in desitution in Mexico, and cannot imagine the desperation that would drive people to take those risks. But what a statement to our reputation. Now, some might also say that a great, long-term solution to this issue is working to grow Mexico's economy, and its middle-class, to unionize workers there so that there is less interest in illegal immigration. If life would become better there, then the gap between Mexico and the U.S. would be diminished. Ultimately, the U.S. should keep this in mind. Mexicans are, in fact, God's children, and while we perhaps should give preferential treatment to those who have never violated immigration laws, that doesn't mean to disrespect or hate those who have, who likely judged our nation so wonderful they thought the risks were worth it.

    June 6, 2007 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  12. Adrian, KL, Malaysia

    I'm not American but I've been following the debate, there is a lesson to be learnt here from Malaysia.

    Problem with the Malaysian border is that it is very porous by land and sea, to the North we have Thailand and Vietnam, to the East we have Indonesia and Philipines.

    The moment enforcement agencies deport an illegal alien in the morning, he'd be back in the evening just in time for dinner.

    The current Malaysian system in dealing with illegals include canning/whipping, imprisonment/detention and deportation.

    Priority should be given to seal the borders (building walls etc...) to resolve the external threats to the country.

    Once completed the next phase would be to "tighten the noose" move in on illegals whom are residing internally.

    June 6, 2007 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  13. Kevin Riley O'Keeffe, San Jose, California

    I am so very tired of John McCain, and the other cynical liars of the Bush/Cheney administration, using a ridiculous loophole to claim the impending immigration bill isn't about amnesty. Sure, it doesn't dispense automatic citizenship to illegal aliens, but it does automatically grant every illegal alien in the country a new category of residential visa, an X-visa as its called, that they can use to legally stay and work in the USA for the remainder of their natural lives. Sure, it doesn't give them automatic citizenship, but it does automatically confer virtually all of the practical advantages of citizenship, by freely gifting these lawbreakers with permanent legal residency in the United States. And if that isn't amnesty, then there's no such thing.

    June 6, 2007 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  14. Mike C., Portland, OR

    "I am somewhat shocked this question hasn’t gotten more comments..."

    I agree. This should be THE issue of 2008. I'm also VERY, VERY disappointed in McCain.

    I couldn't believe what happened to him in 2000. And now, he's pandering to the same BS that took him down.

    Sorry John, you've lost my vote. You've sold out.

    June 6, 2007 04:20 am at 4:20 am |
  15. Annette, Tillatoba, MS

    McCain and others like him think if they say “it ain’t amnesty” enough times we will believe it. Wrong. We The Folks aren’t that far gone…yet. Tell you what Johnnie, you pay for it all and leave the rest of us out of it. We have enough on us just keeping OUR families fed. Or is this really about wiping out the middle class? It sure looks and feels like we are being wiped out.

    June 6, 2007 04:34 am at 4:34 am |
  16. Gabriel, Tucson, Arizona

    The immigration bill is amnesty in a bad disguise. It doesn't secure our borders, in fact it leaves pockets of the border unsecured so illegal immigrants can keep coming through and we can repeat this problem again in 20 years. This is simply meant to pacify the American people. The govt failed us in protecting our borders from the flood of illegals, now the govt should cut out spending on unneeded projects and use the money to deport 12 million illegals and build a border fence. Too bad capitalism needs an underclass, though.

    June 6, 2007 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  17. mvitti, bergenfield nj

    It is not our fault that our government turn away from their responsibilities to protect this nation and let 20million walk over our southern border. they did so for big business. How many illegal are near the McCain and Kennedy compounds? The nation has been demanding security for some time to no avail. Dry up McCains money and put in somewhere will it will actually work.

    June 6, 2007 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  18. Ben Jensen, St. Louis MO

    I think it's ridiculous that he honestly believes that people are going to sign up for this program willingly. Why would you willingly subject yourself to a heavy fine and years of work for something that you don't necessarily want or need. If they are able to stay in this country illegally right now and work, get medical care, etc. Why would they voluntarily subject themselves to this program?

    What needs to happen is enforcement of laws that are already in place! I think that if Americans saw that the government could actually do what they promised to do back in 1986, or more recently with the border fence project, then as Americans we could support a program that makes it easier for LEGAL immigrants to become citizens.

    June 6, 2007 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  19. Robert, Sterling Virginia

    Wow...just wow... I am shocked, repulsed and dismayed by the responses to this article. First of all, our immigration laws are so restrictive, the only way these people have to get in this country is by undocumented means. Furthermore, they heavily favor people who have money over people who don't. So much for "give us your tired, give us your poor". Isn't being the land of opportunity what made this country the best one in the world anyway? Second...my ancestors came over on the mayflower. They didn't exactly come here legally now did they? So with that in mind, let's deport anyone who's family either came here illegally or was helped by someone who came here illegally either directly or indirectly. I feel like if we're holding this standard for people of Latin descent, we need to hold the standard for people of EVERY background.
    Now, to the person who commented about their children tying up our schools and health system...how dare you. You whine and complain about them not speaking English, but you don't want to give them any means to learn.

    Fourth. Let's apply the same standards to immigration as most conservatives apply to abortion. They're on completely opposite sides of the spectrum on these two issues. I get two to three e-mail chains a month with people giving bizarre scenarios and asking of the baby should be aborted and then they always end up with the child being someone famous or important. What if the people we keep out include the person who is going to cure cancer, or AIDS. What if that person who works 14 hours a day in a poultry plant has a small child and gets deported leaving their kid as a dependent of the state (keep in mind a child born here is a legal US Citizen)? Doesn't that contradict the "children need families" principal of most conservatives?

    We need a comprehensive plan for immigration. Unfortunately those of you who can't see past the end of your nose see that as rounding everyone up and deporting them, and unfortunately deporting 15-20 million people would be a lot more expensive to US Taxpayers than letting them stay for two reasons. #1, the cost associated with rouding them up and sending them back would be astronomical.
    #2, the price of almost all of the low-end goods and services in our country would go up significantly, including but not limited to corporate rents, housing costs, home maintenence and repair, food costs, and on and on and on.

    Wake up and smell the burritos...our society is dependent on these people. If they all left, we'd be in a VERY bad situation.

    June 6, 2007 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  20. Deji, Louisville KY

    Some of the comments are ludicrous. First of all, for those of you who feel that you have more claim than any other to be in America, how did your forefathers get into this country? I'm pretty sure they were here illegally. We all illegally took over this country from the Native Americans, so your claim that some people are less deserving due to race is ridiculous. Look up your family lineage and find out what country you actually are from before making your hypocritical statements. Some of you have never lived in poverty or duress. You have been spoiled by your so called innate rights as a natural American. Unless you are of Native American decent, you are in no way, shape, or form a native of America, so before you display your false sense of nationalism, learn your history and remember the history of our occupation of this great country. Stop looking at yourself as superior to others. That kind of arrogance is what is wrong with some of the general population. Remember that you are blessed to be in this great nation.

    Maybe we should go so far as to check everyone's heritage and deport all that have no trace of Native American bloodline.

    I do feel that all who come to this country should be accounted for. They should have to register and be identified, just as our immigrant forefathers. We do need reform to the handling of this issue.
    I would like to see people post some sensible solutions to the problem instead of the unwilling ability to allow people from other nations to enter this country.

    Look up the Statue of Liberty and read the engraving: ".. Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

    America is the golden door. Remember what we stand for. Stop being selfish!!

    June 6, 2007 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  21. Dan, Omaha, NE

    First of all whoever said McCain is a traitor does not know the first thing about him. Whether you disagree with him, hate him, or whatever, he has served this country in a matter that deserves our respect.

    Secondly, there is no way that we can round up 12 million illegal immigrants by ourselves without laws in place to give them incentive to get out of the shadows. This law will help us find the law abiding ones who are willing to become part of our country and will help us in tracking down the ones that are dangerous to us.

    June 6, 2007 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. David, Gilbert Arizona

    I find it unfortunately surprising that it is the illegal immigrant that is made to pay for the situation this country is in right now. One burning question should be answered before the situation will ever be resolved; why do immigrants come to this country illegally? The short answer is jobs. There are jobs to be had in this country.

    There are existing laws, which were put in place during the Reagan era when illegal immigrants were granted amnesty, and yes the word amnesty was used by Ronald. Those laws are structured to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. Those laws have never been enforced until very recently.

    Employers complain that they need immigrant labor because "Americans won't do the jobs." This is a half truth. The whole truth is that Americans won't do the jobs at the pay the illegal immigrant is willing to take. The American employee is hurt because the pay rates are driven down by cheap labor. The illegal immigrant is hurt because they are being taken advantage of with no real benefits. It is the employer that is reaping the benefits. Is it any wonder that the largest lobbyist for passing a guest worker program is big business?

    This is a country of immigrants. There are laws in place that establish what is legal and what is illegal. Those that came to this country legally, like my ancestors, have the right to call this country home. Those that come to this country illegally should not be given a free pass for breaking established laws. Those companies that hire these illegal immigrants should also be held accountable, if not more so since they are the root cause.

    June 6, 2007 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  23. charles

    we should add an ellis island type system along the border and send all illegal immigrants that are onvicted criminals back to their native lands once the borders are shored up tight

    no more illegal immigrants only legal ones

    then we can sort out the people already here

    and still allow the refugees fleeing latino poverty in south and central america to come to the U.S.

    December 5, 2007 06:02 am at 6:02 am |
  24. Luke

    We are the most generous country in the world when it comes to legal immigration. Those who want to use sappy quotes like "we are a country of immigrants" are not facing up to the reality that we have over 20 million illegal aliens in this country and more coming. If they are granted amnesty or given some phoney z-visa which will give them government benefits, free education, free medical care, etc. as well as bring their extended families, the American taxpayer will be footing the bill for a huge underclass. There just aren't going to be enough jobs for uneducated and unskilled workers in this age where education and skill are paramount to success. Yes, wouldn't it be lovely if we could bring all 3+ Billion poor people around the world here to personally take care of? Or would it?
    Every developed country has an immigration policy....including a very harsh one im Mexico. (they don't want anyone south of their border invading their country). To expect that we should accept EVERYBODY who sneaks in while others wait their turn is ridiculous. Mexico needs to step up and take responsibility for their own people. They are NOT a poor country yet 50% of their population lives in poverty. And why should the government care since the US is more than happy to be a nanny state. This is not a racial thing. If we were next to China we would be talking about Chinese, etc. We simply cannot take care of everyone and the rule of law must be enforced. I can't steal someones' identity, then hide in a church and claim I'm being discriminated against. We don't need to mass deport. Once employers know there will be stiff penalties or loss of operator's license, they will stop employing illegals. Once we cut off welfare and all but emergency health care, there will be a natural attrition.
    Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made for the good of the country. We should not become the world's largest welfare state.

    January 13, 2008 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |