SALT LAKE CITY, June 26, 2013 — If John McCain were up for re-election in 2014, nobody would be talking about immigration reform.
In the mid-2000s, McCain was an enthusiastic proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, having sponsored a bill with Ted Kennedy and later backing a different bill sponsored by Harry Reid. Those bills did largely what the current Gang of Eight bill attempts to do.
“Complete the danged fence,” he famously said in a primary race television ad just a few years later. McCain, though eventually winning quite easily, was feeling pressure at the time from J.D. Hayworth, who was running to McCain’s right on several issues.
But now that the 2008 GOP nominee has run his last race, he is free to champion once again a program that puts legalization before border enforcement.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain’s colleague in the Gang, said on Fox News Sunday just a few days ago that “we’ve practically militarized the border … we have secured our border in a way that I couldn’t have imagined four or five years ago.”
Graham’s imagination — or his memory — isn’t very robust. He voted precisely for the enhanced border security in 2006 that he now says is unprecedented. It is unprecedented because the federal government (mostly the Department of Homeland Security) hasn’t followed through on the legislation.
What will be unprecedented is if the promises made by the current bill’s sponsors ever get fulfilled.
So while Graham insists that “we’ve secured our border,” we have done no such thing. The southern border isn’t secure, by many accounts. What the senator means to say is that there are a bunch of legislative promises in the bill meant to mollify conservatives.
But why do conservative need mollifying? Border security is such a basic tenet of immigration regime supported by large majorities of Americans. A recent Pew poll found that 77 percent of the public wants enforcement as a major component in any reform, and half of respondents want it first.
Even President Obama, then representing Illinois in the Senate, voted for the fence in 2006.
The Pew pollsters didn’t ask whether the government should comply with a law it passed seven years ago, but that seems like it might make sense, given that immigration policies rest completely on precise timetables.
Given conservatives’ distrust of the government, the current version of reform might well ensure Graham’s defeat in his 2014 re-election bid. He hasn’t taken a lesson from McCain, who was sufficiently chastised in 2007 by his base to back away from amnesty-first measures.
It might be now, then, that the most important timetable is John McCain’s countdown to retirement.
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative.
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