2008 Election Issues: Immigration

Key Bills Include:

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006: Would have strengthened enforcement and allowed millions a path to U.S. citizenship. Passed in Senate in 2006; House blocked it.
  • Secure Fence Act: Creates more than 700 miles of border fencing; enacted in 2006.
  • DREAM Act: Would have allowed qualifying illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition and eventually gain legal status. Final passage in Senate blocked in October 2007.

Jan. 30, 2008 -- Congress failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul last summer, and so the presidential candidates are grappling with the contentious issue of illegal immigration on the campaign trail.

Immigration also provides one of the clearest contrasts between the parties. While both Democrats and Republicans advocate various enforcement measures, most of the Republican contenders reject legalizing an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.; all the Democratic contenders support it. GOP candidates have highlighted their get-tough approach, while Democrats have generally avoided the topic unless asked.

Below is a breakdown of the candidates' votes and positions on some of the main immigration legislation in recent years:

The Candidates on Immigration
Democrats Republicans
Sen. Hillary Clinton. Photo: Getty Images

Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY): Clinton voted for an immigration overhaul bill in 2006 that would have legalized millions of immigrants in the U.S. She also supported a bill to create 700 miles of border fencing and co-sponsored a bill to help qualifying illegal immigrants pay in-state college tuition and eventually gain permanent status. She backed a proposal that would have legalized some farm workers.

Sen. John McCain. Photo: Getty Images

Sen. John McCain (AZ): In 2006, McCain co-sponsored the Senate immigration bill that would have legalized millions of immigrants in the U.S., strengthened border control and created a guest-worker program. As a presidential candidate, McCain has been attacked for the proposal and has since said he believes in securing the borders before legalizing immigrants. McCain says he recognizes the economic value of immigrant workers, and so he backs what he calls a "sensible" guest-worker program for workers who are in the country without legal status. McCain calls for strengthening penalties for those who hire undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Barack Obama. Photo: Getty Images

Sen. Barack Obama (IL): Obama voted for the Senate immigration overhaul bill to strengthen border controls, create a guest-worker program and legalize millions of foreign workers here now. Obama also backed the Secure Fence Act. He co-sponsored a bill to allow states to offer illegal immigrants in-state tuition.

Sources: Candidate Web sites as well as sites for the U.S. House and Senate.