McCain: Improved Border Situation Has Made Immigration Reform Possible

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that the improving situation on the country’s southwestern border has been critical to making immigration reform possible — and that Republicans will demand additional enforcement alongside reform measures such as a pathway to citizenship.

“There has been real improvements in border security,” McCain told reporters in the Capitol. Asked if that helps the politics of reform, he said, “Sure. I think it helps a lot.” He argued that the situation has considerably improved “over the last five, six years” and called some of the concerns “over-hyped.”

The Arizona Republican said the border is not yet secure and said the bipartisan group of eight senators who unveiled the immigration framework Monday “explained it very well that we have to have operational control of the border before we move forward” with legalizing unauthorized immigrants.The continued flow of illegal immigration since the 1986 reform that provided a pathway to citizenship has nevertheless been a central concern cited by conservatives who refuse to sign on to a proposal that they argue would repeat the mistake. That argument helped kill the prior reform effort in 2007, which McCain also led.

“I think it’s been a little bit over-hyped,” he said Tuesday. “I think we have made significant improvements since 1986 on border security. There was practically none back then, and so there’s been progress, but it’s a lesson we should learn.”

The Obama administration has beefed up border enforcement and deported undocumented immigrants at a record pace. Those efforts, combined with the economic downturn, have led to declining illegal immigration and reduced border violence during his first term.

Asked by TPM what specific outreach efforts Republicans are making to conservatives to ensure that the effort does not collapse as it did in 2007, McCain demurred, saying he’s “trying to get the message to everybody.”

Shortly before President Obama’s nationally televised speech, McCain lauded the efforts of his 2008 rival in pursuing the politically daunting goal of immigration reform.

“His speech today is important — his commitment to it,” McCain said. “I think it’s been very helpful, what he’s doing.” He said he expects a continued “partnership” between the White House and Congress to flesh out the legislation, “hopefully developing these details in conjunction.”