McCain Defends Immigration Stance In San Diego
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain holds a town hall meeting this morning in New Mexico, where Latino voters are a key constituency.
Yesterday, while speaking to the national Latino group, McCain was forced to defend his record on immigration. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain tried twice in the Senate to pass a bill that would crack down on illegal immigration while also providing a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already here. Both times, the legislation failed, but McCain told the National Council of La Raza he hasn't given up.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): When I say I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it.
(Soundbite of applause)
HORSLEY: McCain still got a grilling from some of the Latino activists in the audience. Juan Salgado, who runs a Chicago-based institute that helps immigrants, wants reassurance that any crackdown would be accompanied by efforts to legalize those now living in the shadows.
Mr. JUAN SALGADO (Immigrant Activist): One single bill that legalizes and provides a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, is that what you're saying? One single bill?
Sen. McCAIN: It provides - one, single, comprehensive bill, but first we have to assure the American people that the borders are secured. We have to have that done. And my friends, if you don't want to do that, then I have to tell you from bringing it up twice, then we don't pass the legislation.
HORSLEY: For McCain, that's an assessment of political reality. But Democratic rival Barack Obama has accused McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration changes in the face of Republican opposition.
In fact, both candidates approach immigration in much the same way, and both are eagerly courting Latino voters who could play a big role in several Western swing states.
Latinos cast about 12 percent of the votes in Colorado and Nevada, and a whopping 37 percent in New Mexico. Albuquerque researcher Frank Marival(ph) says immigration is far from the only thing on those voters' minds.
Mr. FRANK MARIVAL (Researcher): You would think that immigration would be at the top of the list, but it's not. Health care's right up there. Immigration is right around fourth or fifth.
HORSLEY: Both Obama and McCain tried to address those other concerns this week in back-to-back speeches to La Raza. Obama called for more investment in early childhood education, while McCain stressed his support for charter schools.
Sen. McCAIN: You deserve a greater say in deciding how your children are educated, and I'm committed to making sure you do.
HORSLEY: McCain also stressed his support for free trade, drawing applause when he mentioned his trip to Colombia and Mexico. The Arizona Republican boasted of winning 75 percent of the Latino vote in his last Senate race. McCain knows he won't do that well with La Raza members nationally.
Sen. McCAIN: I know many of you are Democrats, regrettably.
(Soundbite of applause)
HORSLEY: A recent Gallup poll showed Latino voters favoring Obama over McCain by a two-to-one margin, but McCain promises to compete for Latinos' trust and their votes. Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.