Sen. John McCain now is embracing a version of the attrition strategy to fight illegal immigration, saying his version of a guest-worker plan would actually force many illegal aliens to leave the country over the next couple of years.
Photos: Giuliani, McCain on the Florida trail
“I would propose, once the borders are secure and the borders stay government-certified, then I would have [a] tamper-proof biometric-document system so that the only people that can work are those who have that. And that would cause many more to leave this country,” Mr. McCain told “Al Punto,” Univision’s Sunday political talk-show program, in an interview broadcast yesterday.
Mr. McCain and three other Republican presidential candidates sat down for interviews with the program, which covered immigration, the economy and U.S. policy toward Cuba.
The Arizona senator has said he “got the message” after the defeat of the immigration bill he sponsored last year with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and the backing of President Bush. That bill would have created an immediate probationary status for illegal aliens, given them a path to citizenship and increased legal immigration as well.
Now, Mr. McCain says that he would focus first on border security, that 2 million criminal illegal aliens should be deported outright, and that only after the borders are secure and a worker-verification program is in place should illegal aliens get a path to citizenship.
The program’s host, Jorge Ramos, asked Mr. McCain if that meant no legalization program “for the first two or three years,” and Mr. McCain seemed to concur.
“I am saying that in the first year or two years at the present pace we can get the border secured, and then we can address the other part of it. The American people want the border secured first, and that is what we have to do,” Mr. McCain said, according to an English transcript provided by the network.
Mr. McCain also talked about his attrition strategy in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program yesterday.
“A lot of people will leave just, just normally, because they’re not going to be able to get their job,” he said.
Immigration is a dominant issue for many Republican voters, and Mr. McCain has acknowledged his earlier stand cost him support last year, nearly ending his campaign. His new position puts him closer to former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rep. Ron Paul — rival Republican candidates who have called for using attrition to force nearly all illegal aliens to leave. Mr. McCain yesterday made more-modest claims about the dent attrition would make in the illegal-alien population.
Mr. McCain said if he were president he would still sign into law the bill he and Mr. Kennedy tried to pass last year, but said Congress won’t send him that version.
“The bill is dead as it is written,” he said.
With Florida’s primary coming tomorrow, the “Al Punto” program was designed to reach the first big pocket of Hispanic Republican voters to vote this year. It also represents another step in Republican outreach, following the Spanish-language debate Univision hosted last month.
On yesterday’s Univision program, Mr. Ramos asked Mr. Huckabee about his change of heart from his time as governor, when he had a welcoming stance toward illegal immigration, to his current proposals, which put him alongside Mr. Paul as having the strictest plans.
Mr. Huckabee said he didn’t view it as a change, but blamed the federal government for creating an unsustainable situation. He also said it was realistic to expect 12 million people to leave the country within 120 days, as his plan calls for.
“The government didn’t round them up and bring them here. So it’s not necessary for the government to take them home,” he said. “This is a matter in which they choose to go back to their country of origin, start the process.”
Asked about his change of position on Cuba — as governor he supported partially lifting the embargo so Arkansas could ship rice to the Communist-ruled island — he said he now views the situation nationally, not parochially.
“I’m not running for governor of Arkansas. My interest is not just the rice crop of one state,” he said.