Chicago Tribune falsely claimed Clinton, Obama, and McCain "essentially agree" on immigration

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In an article on immigration as a campaign issue, the Chicago Tribune reported that Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain "essentially agree on the need for an overhaul of U.S. Immigration law that would combine increased border enforcement with a new guest-worker program and measures to permit the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country to eventually apply for citizenship." In fact, McCain has said he "would not" support his original comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor and now says that "we've got to secure the borders first."

In a March 24 Chicago Tribune article on immigration as a campaign issue, correspondent Howard Witt claimed that Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain "have little to debate on the topic." As evidence, Witt falsely reported that the three presidential hopefuls "essentially agree on the need for an overhaul of U.S. Immigration law that would combine increased border enforcement with a new guest-worker program and measures to permit the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country to eventually apply for citizenship." In fact, unlike Clinton and Obama, McCain has abandoned his previous support for comprehensive immigration legislation. McCain asserted on January 30 that he "would not" support his original comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor and now says that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- a position at odds with his prior assertion that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective.

McCain also reversed his position on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have allowed "illegal immigrants under age 30 to remain in the United States and gain legal status if they attend college or join the military." Clinton and Obama have both voted for the DREAM Act, and support its enactment.

While Witt wrote that "[i]mmigration reformers say the victory of the more moderate McCain over several Republican primary rivals who favored strict Immigration crackdowns proves that the campaign against illegal immigrants has backfired," he did not report McCain's reversal on a key aspect of comprehensive immigration reform -- whether border security can be addressed separately from other components -- which more closely aligned him with the base of the Republican Party. A November 4, 2007, Associated Press article on the change in McCain's position reported that his prior support for comprehensive immigration reform "hurt him politically" and quoted McCain as stating: "I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift. ... I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders." In his February 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), McCain also asserted that "[o]n the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign." After claiming that "we failed" on immigration, McCain stated: "I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration."

Though Witt reported that "[m]embers of Congress tried and failed, in 2006 and 2007, to enact such immigration reforms, some of them co-sponsored by McCain and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy," he did not mention that McCain said during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate that he "would not" support his own bill if it came to a vote in the Senate:

JANET HOOK (Los Angeles Times staff writer): What I'm wondering is, and you seem to be downplaying that part, at this point, if your original proposal came to a vote in the Senate floor, would you vote for it?

McCAIN: It won't. It won't. That's why we went through the debate.

HOOK: I know, but what if it did?

McCAIN: No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today. The people want the border secured first. And so to say that that would come to the floor of the Senate, it won't. We went through various amendments which prevented that ever, that proposal.

Numerous media outlets have noted McCain's previous support for comprehensive immigration reform without noting that he has since changed his position.

In contrast to the Tribune's and other reports, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller reported on March 3 that McCain "moved from his original position on immigration" and "went so far at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in January to say that if his original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would not vote for it."

From the March 24 Chicago Tribune article:

Illegal Immigration, a hot-button populist issue that many experts had expected to top the nation's political concerns this year, has largely vanished from the presidential campaign amid waning interest from voters and mounting delays in constructing a 670-mile border fence between the United States and Mexico.

Moreover, primary results and opinion polls in recent months indicate that the Republican Party's emphasis on a crackdown against illegal immigrants may be driving many Hispanic voters -- a crucial electoral bloc in November's election -- into the Democratic fold.

"For any candidates anywhere in the country, I don't think it's demonstrated that combating illegal Immigration is an issue that controls people's votes," said David Hill, a leading Republican pollster in Houston who has termed illegal Immigration a "dud issue" for his party. "Immigration is unlike health care or the economy, both of which have a more intimate impact on people's lives."

At the presidential level, the three remaining contenders have little to debate on the topic. Sens. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all essentially agree on the need for an overhaul of U.S. Immigration law that would combine increased border enforcement with a new guest-worker program and measures to permit the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country to eventually apply for citizenship.

Members of Congress tried and failed, in 2006 and 2007, to enact such Immigration reforms, some of them co-sponsored by McCain and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. The initiatives were derailed by strong grass-roots opposition to provisions that many conservatives regarded as amnesty for foreigners who have broken American Immigration laws.

Now, however, anti-Immigration activists, chagrined that their issue is sputtering at the national level as American voters turn their attention to the faltering economy, are resigning themselves to the likelihood that the next occupant of the White House, either Democrat or Republican, may well try to resurrect an Immigration compromise.

[...]

For their part, Immigration reformers say the victory of the more moderate McCain over several Republican primary rivals who favored strict Immigration crackdowns proves that the campaign against illegal immigrants has backfired.

"The whole point of the hard-core anti-immigrant stance was to galvanize Republican voters and turn them out," said Cecilia Munoz, senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic civil rights group. "It did not galvanize the voters who were the intended targets, but it sure galvanized Latino voters. We have tripled our electoral turnout this year."

Posted In
Elections, Immigration
Network/Outlet
Chicago Tribune
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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