Note: This was not a “Town Hall” Meeting open to the public. This was by Invitation Only. These actions are happening right before our eyes and we are doing nothing to protest them. It has been said “People get the government they deserve.” Perhaps this is proof.
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake made the case for immigration reform today at a special forum before a home-state audience, arguing that bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate would crack down on future illegal immigration, boost the economy and deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows.
The two senators said they are optimistic the U.S. House of Representatives will act on immigration before the end of the year, urging the lower chamber to come up with a compromise that the Senate could agree to and the president could sign.
“It is not a perfect piece of legislation, nor have I ever seen a perfect piece of legislation,” McCain said. “But I do believe this is a compromise, in some cases, that all of us can support and also believe fervently it can achieve the goals we set out: a secure border, a path to citizenship and a treatment of an issue that is not going away.”
“This is a very important time for the life or death of this issue,” he added.
The event at the Mesa Arts Center, “A Conversation on Immigration With John McCain and Jeff Flake,” was presented by The Arizona Republic, USA Today, 12 News and azcentral.com.
For more than an hour, McCain and Flake took questions from the audience, including border ranchers, business leaders and reporters at the event and viewers posting on social media.
McCain, Arizona’s senior senator, and Flake, a newcomer to the upper chamber after 12 years in the House, have been leaders in the push this year to pass comprehensive immigration reform. As members of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” they hammered out legislation that would dramatically change the immigration system.
The legislation cleared the Senate with bipartisan support on June 27, but it has encountered friction in the Republican-run House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders have rejected the comprehensive Senate approach.
However, the House is set to tackle the immigration issue this fall with a series of bills that zero in on individual topics such as border security and the “dreamers” – young immigrants who as children were brought into the country without authorization. Reform advocates hope the House will pass some sort of legislation that could be reconciled with the Senate bill.
An emotional plea came from Susan Krentz, the widow of rancher Robert Krentz, who was shot and killed in 2010, setting off an outcry about the unsafe conditions created by drug and people smuggling along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“How long do my family and others have to wait so we can live and work in peace?” Krentz asked.
Flake said the input of Krentz and other border residents had helped to shape the legislation.
The bill would dramatically increase enforcement, the senators said, providing billions for a secure border and interior protection. The Department of Homeland Security would double the number of Border Patrol officers, add 700 miles of border fencing, and install surveillance technology. Businesses across the country would screen workers with e-Verify, an employment verification system. Immigrants on temporary visas would be identified biometrically to prevent them overstaying.
“I am confident that with passage of this legislation we will achieve 90-percent effective control of our border,” McCain said.
If that doesn’t happen, he added, the legislation includes triggers to provide more funding and convene a working group to find out what additional fixes are needed.
McCain said the broken promises of border security under immigration reform in 1986 would not be repeated because today’s bill has funding written into it, rather than depending on Congress to appropriate money in the future.
On the economy, the senators cited the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office research that the Senate’s comprehensive reforms would reduce the federal budget deficit and shore up the financially strapped Social Security trust fund since illegal immigrants grantred citizenship would begin paying into the system as legal workers. In Arizona, the bill would create thousands of jobs and boost the state’s economic output by $616 million, they said.
“If you think this bill is not good for the economy of America and Arizona, your argument is not with us. It’s with the Congressional Budget Office,” McCain said.
Citizenship for illegal immigrants is a cornerstone of the legislation, McCain said. But he said he said the parameters aren’t “engraved in concrete” and said he would be open to negotiations with the House on defining who would be eligible.
But he said the American experience historically has been to welcome immigrants and provide them a way to earn citizenship. He said keeping too many immigrants as residents but not citizens, such as in Europe, would have negative consequences.
“We’re the land of opportunity,” McCain said.
Flake said he expects action in the House before the end of the year.
“There is pressure on the House to do something. The Speaker already said doing nothing is not an option,” Flake said. “I’m still confident we can get a bill this year.”
Political pundits argue immigration reform is vital for the GOP to remain relevant in future elections and attract Latino voters, a fast-growing voter bloc.
Both McCain and Flake both said they aren’t taking the political calculations into account.
“If you do the right thing, good politics will follow,” Flake said.