Senator John McCain defended his immigration plan to a group of outraged constituents during a town hall meeting in Sun Lakes, AZ on Tuesday, in the latest iteration of the senator’s ever-evolving position on immigration.
When an infuriated constituent asked, “Why didn’t the Army go down there and stop” immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, McCain replied, “The border is 2,000 miles long, sir, I don’t know how many troops and Army people you think would have been required…But I’ll give you expert information that shows you that probably maybe you’re talking about two million soldiers.”
He then cited the U.S. Constitution, saying “…we are not allowed to have an armed militia on our border because that’s what our Founding Fathers wanted—your problem is with them, not with me.”
Watch the exchange at Tuesday’s town hall meeting here.
McCain went on to defend a type of pathway to citizenship, which was greeted with more anger from the crowd. “There are 11 million people living here illegally. We are not going to get enough buses to deport them,” he said.
This approach to immigration is a bit different from the one we’ve seen from Sen. McCain in the past.
During a 2010 radio interview on the Jon Justice show out of Tucson, McCain stated, “No amnesty. Many of them need to be sent back.” He even supported fully prosecuting employers who hire illegal immigrants, clearly contradicting his position on Tuesday, when he defended illegal immigrants for the types of jobs they take. “They mow our lawns, they care for our babies,” McCain said. “That’s what those people do.”
In a 2010 television ad entitled Complete the Danged Fence, McCain made a gross generalization in blaming illegal immigrants for carrying out home invasions, murders, and drug smuggling. While advocating for a finished fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, in the same campaign ad he supported a troop increase at the border in addition to raising the number of border patrol agents in Arizona.
This too comes as a contradiction to what he told an audience in Milwaukee while on the campaign trail in 2007: “By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I’ll build the goddamned fence if they want it.”
During Tuesday’s town hall, a constituent asked, “Where’s the fence?” Sen. McCain cited a chart that illustrated some $600 million of appropriations he assisted in obtaining to build the fence — an approach to immigration he is now in favor of.
In 2011, when Arizona was facing massive wildfires, Sen. McCain claimed that “there is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally. They have set fires because they want to signal others, they have set fires to keep warm, and they have set fires in order to divert law enforcement.”
While some officials believed the fires were caused by a campfire, there were clearly additional factors that triggered the spread. Despite environmental factors—a dry and hot climate coupled with high winds that cause the spread of wildfires—Senator McCain chose to focus on illegal immigrants, who are surely not the only people capable of starting campfires.
Although Sen. McCain has reversed his stance on immigration several times over the years, he and his colleagues who make up the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” are expected to propose legislation to address the issue. Meanwhile, President Obama isn’t holding his breath. Committed to fixing the broken immigration system, the White House has already begun drafting legislation on the issue that would consist of an eight-year path to citizenship as well as an updated E-Verify policy.
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