Azcentral.com By Dan Nowicki
During his at-times raucous town-hall-style meeting in Sun Lakes last week, U.S. Sen. John McCain compared immigrants now in the United States illegally to traffic speeders, saying they should be allowed to get straight with the law by paying a penalty and taking other steps.
“All of us, from time to time, I think with rare exception, unfortunately, have broken the law,” McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday told the crowd of more than 150 people in the retirementcommunity near Chandler. “Mine was while driving an automobile at an excessive speed. I paid a fine. I paid a fine. I had to go to (traffic) school. Some of us might remember that experience.”
McCain is one of eight senators working on new bipartisan immigration-reform legislation that is expected to include an eventual path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants now in the country. Many illegal-immigration critics are tough sells for any proposal that they view as offering “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Some in the Sun Lakes audience indicated they would prefer granting the undocumented immigrants a legal status without extending the opportunity for citizenship to them.
Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said he believes McCain is minimizing illegal immigration by saying the offense, like speeding, is no big deal.
“A lot of other people would say, ‘Look, you’ve got Americans who don’t have jobs, you’ve gotschools that are overcrowded and you’ve got a health-care system that is in serious crisis,’” said Camarota, whose Washington, D.C.-based organization supports more immigration enforcement and overall reductions in immigration. “They’d say, ‘American sovereignty is a hell of a lot more important than you going five miles over the speed limit.’”
But Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said McCain’s comparison is “an almost perfect analogy” because unlawful presence in the United States is a civil violation. It is a crime to cross the border illegally, but those cases can be difficult to prosecute. And many illegal immigrants enter legally but overstay their visas.
“The difference between that (unlawful presence) and a civil traffic violation is that the repercussions are so much more profound,” she said. “If you are caught unlawfully present in the United States, you are subject to deportation and, basically, your life gets turned upside-down.”