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Immigration Reform Defines Candidates' Positions

La Opinin, News Report, Maribel Hastings Posted: Jun 13, 2008

Editor's Note: Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain may appear to have similar stances on immigration, but in fact they have significant differences.

WASHINGTON, D.C. At first glance there dont seem to be significant differences between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama when it comes to immigration. Obama supports comprehensive reform that had been forcefully supported by McCain until the political climate led McCain to focus on security first.

If McCain and Obama and their respective Republican and Democratic parties share anything, it's their avoidance of the immigration issue altogether whenever possible: Although it is not at the top of the list of electoral priorities, it is a volatile issue.

What's odd is that it's an issue that some say would benefit McCain in the fight for the Latino vote. The Arizona senator was the co-author of the immigration reform bill with Democratic Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.

Although McCain now emphasizes a security-first approach, the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill still resonates for many Hispanics.

But everything is relative. Yesterday an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll concluded that 62 percent of Hispanic voters prefer Obama versus 28 percent for McCain.

In fact, when you look at the candidates positions on specific topics, there are differences.

For example, McCain opposes the DREAM Act, which would benefit undocumented students, and Obama supports it; McCain opposes the idea of granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, but Obama supports it.

Both candidates, however, voted in favor of building a wall on the southern U.S. border.

"But the most important differences are less obvious and have to do with what type of reform they'll propose and try to pass," Cecilia Muoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), told La Opinin. 

According to Muoz, McCain's talk on immigration changes "depending on his audience."

"We had President (George W.) Bush's heart behind immigration reform and that wasn't enough. I think Senator McCain's heart is behind the legislation but we don't know if hell want to or be able to really push through the type of reform he wants," she added.

"He (McCain) is not only trying to placate Latino voters, but also the anti-immigrant side of his party, and that will limit him in an important way," said Muoz.

Jeff Sadosky, spokesperson for the McCain presidential campaign, told La Opinin that the senator thinks it is very important to express his positions with "clear and compassionate" language.

"John McCain thinks that we need to secure the border first, but at the same time he understands that we need to handle the immigration debate in a humane way, with the understanding that everyone must be treated with respect," Sadosky said.

The challenge for McCain is to attract Hispanics without alienating the conservative Republican base.

But Obama also faces challenges.

Certainly, the senator's positions are even more advanced than the official position of the Democrats who control Congress, such as Obamas support for granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

But not even the Democrats who control both houses of Congress have been able to advance comprehensive reform.

The Senate tried, but the House of Representatives seems more interested in holding hearings than producing concrete results.

There's a division between the most conservative Democrats in the House who favor measures focused on security like the bill proposed by North Carolina Congressman Health Shuler - and those like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who support comprehensive reform.

It's not just the white working class that is suspicious of comprehensive reform. There's also a perception that there are sectors within the African-American community that oppose it.

Muoz, however, pointed to polls that prove otherwise and the national African-American organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), that actively support comprehensive reform.

But according to Munoz, the fact that Obama promises to advance immigration reform at the beginning of his administration is not just a message to the immigrant community but also to Congress.

"It's the type of difference (from John McCains stance on immigration) that is less obvious but extremely important: the quality of the compromise," she concluded.

Related Articles:

Obama and McCain on Immigration: Life vs. Death

Obama and McCain Ignore Latino Media

Low Turnout in May, High Hopes for November

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