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But, in the general election, the issue has all but disappeared.

Both major presidential candidates regularly raise the immigration issue when speaking to Hispanic audiences and have run brutal and misleading television commercials accusing the other of trying to scuttle comprehensive reform. But to English-speaking audiences, the issue is rarely mentioned and had not been raised in the first two presidential debates.

The two men have nearly identical voting records on immigration.

Both voted for the Secure Fence Act to build fencing on 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, and both voted for the 2006 and 2007 immigration bills.

But Mr. Obama has been consistent in his rhetoric, while Mr. McCain has not. He tells conservative audiences that his priority is border security but told Univision that it’s a broad legalization bill.

Mr. Obama has criticized Mr. McCain for the inconsistency.

“It’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular,” Mr. Obama told the National Council of La Raza in July.

The two differ most on security, though.

Mr. Obama says border security must not be legislated in isolation but must be packaged with a broad bill. Hispanic rights groups fear that if security is done in isolation, they won’t gain support for their priorities, such as a path to citizenship.

Mr. Obama also criticizes Homeland Security’s stepped-up enforcement, calling raids ineffective.

In his recent Univision interview, Mr. McCain said he would not halt immigration raids.

“I can’t tell you that we should stop rounding up people who have come to this country illegally, but I can tell you we will treat the whole issue with a humane and compassionate fashion,” he said.

He has also said he won’t tackle broader immigration, including legalization, until he proves to voters that the borders are secure. He says he will rely on border-state governors to certify security before proceeding.

Those who see legalization as amnesty fret that they have no choices in the election, while advocates of comprehensive reform disagree over who’s more likely to get legislation enacted.

McCain’s border-security-first commitment, which he emphasized in the primaries, and he still says, though he couples with the need for comprehensive immigration reform, I think it means, to be honest, it’s going to be much harder to get immigration reform enacted,” Mr. Sharry said. “If you’re interested in comprehensive immigration reform, Obama has a clear path to it sooner and, in the meantime, will not continue the Chertoff policies of raids.”

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