McCain's Immigration Shift: 'Many' Should Be Sent Back

A lot has changed since 2007, when John McCain was the #1 immigration compromiser in the U.S. Senate, leading the way with a large, bipartisan bill that would have given illegal immigrants an opportunity to become U.S. citizens while beefing up border security. That effort looked promising but ultimately failed, and McCain criticized how the term "amnesty" was used as a bludgeon against it: "Anything short of rounding up 12 million people and deporting them is called amnesty by the opponents of this legislation," he said during a visit to Carlsbad, California in May 2007. "I'll point out that (illegal immigrants) will have to pay back taxes, they'll have to pay a fine, they'll have to go back to their country of origin, and it's at least 15 years before they are in anyway eligible for citizenship."


Now, McCain finds himself in a different political situation, and so does the immigration issue. McCain lost the 2008 election, during which he was sharply criticized as an immigration liberal by his GOP primary rivals, and he's facing a primary challenge from Tea-Party-style candidate J.D. Hayworth. As a national issue, immigration has heated up after Arizona passed its new law and as a drug war has raged in Mexico.

McCain has changed with the times. The Hill's Mike O'Brien notices catches this snippet of a radio interview in his home state:

"No amnesty. Many of them need to be sent back," McCain said during an interview on KQTH-FM in Tucson, Ariz.
Once the border is secured, McCain said, "a temporary legal worker program has to be part" of immigration reform. But he made it clear that program would be for those who want to enter the country as part of that future program, and not those who came to the United States illegally.
A temporary guest-worker program is a far cry from a pathway to citizenship; it's a mechanism to let more immigrants come here to work legally, particularly as migrant labor, but it's on the conservative end of the let-them-in spectrum.

If the Senate is to forge any kind of agreement on immigration, it will need every vote it can get. Given McCain's present situation, it doesn't seem likely that he'll sign onto anything resembling what Democrats would want to pass--at least not before November.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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