At a hundreds-strong rally in the Service Employees International Union and headquarters in Tribeca, the Arizona Senator stepped up his campaign to promote and educate about the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill.
Speaking at a press conference beforehand, McCain outlined the rules of the bill, currently the only bipartisan bill in the Senate.
The McCain-Kennedy immigration bill proposes the introduction of tamper-proof visas, which would allow immigrants to travel to the U.S. for job opportunities and would provide a path towards citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
U.S. employers could hire immigrants, provided they could not find a suitable U.S. applicant after advertising the position for 60 days. In theory, the tamperproof visas would eliminate the risk for employers of hiring illegal immigrants using false papers.
Undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S., thousands of whom are Irish, it has been estimated, could become citizens after six years, provided they underwent a security background check, learned English if it is not their first language, and payed a $2,000 fine.
“It’s not amnesty, its tough medicine,” McCain said, referring to a recent pole in Time magazine, where 71 percent of respondents said they supported earned citizenship.”
“I don’t believe in amnesty, I believe in earned citizenship, and anybody who calls this bill amnesty does not read the same dictionary I do.”
Responding to questions about the high degree of manpower and expense involved in conducting 11 million background checks he replied:
“It would be a heck of a lot easier than rounding them up and sending them home. What is non-negotiable is sending them back.”
Criticizing the current immigration system, Senator urged people to think about the humanitarian issues involved. In the Senator’s home state of Arizona, 415 people died last year attempting to cross the U.S. border through the desert including a two-year-old girl, Maria Hernandez.
“Those people died in the desert in Arizona trying to get into this country to make better lives for themselves. It’s a terrible way to die,” he said.
At the Rally, which took place over two hours in the building’s main auditorium, McCain sat in the front row as New York Members of Congress, community representatives and undocumented immigrants addressed a crowd that reflected the diversity of New York’s immigrant community and the wide-reaching effects of current U.S. immigration policies. As well as Irish immigrants and lobbyists, the crowd included members of the Asian, Central American, Latin and African communities.
Brian, a plumber from Monaghan, was one of five undocumented immigrants who shared their stories with the crowd. Brian came to Ireland eight years ago when he was 22, got married and built up a successful plumbing business. But without papers or a driver’s license, he lives in fear of deportation, paying a driver to bring him to and from work each day.
“Because of immigration, I cannot return to Ireland, I cannot even drive my car to work,” he said.
“My story is like a lot of Irish people who have laid down roots here and started families. We need the law to change so that we need not live in fear of deportation.”
“We need a fair, just and compassionate review of our immigration system,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
“America is a nation built by diverse people from almost every nation around the globe. We must work hard to ensure that legacy does not become tarnished, but continues to grow.”
Congressman and onetime mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner was amongst the four New York Congress members in attendance, while New York senators Chuck Schumer and Hilary Rodham Clinton were the two most notable absences.
“I can’t imagine myself ever voting for him, but he has the position we all should have,” Weiner said, praising Senator McCain’s proposed bill.
“We have a law for you that needs to be enacted. It allows people to earn their way to citizenship by being good citizens. We’re going to go to Washington and fight for this bill,” he said.
The crowd stood for McCain as he rose to deliver his keynote speech.
“We strongly support legal immigration into this country,” he said.
“We do have to secure our borders, every nation in the world has to, but as we have doubled and redoubled our spending on border control, the number of people coming into the country illegally has increased.”
“When people are in the country illegally, they are deprived of the rights of Americans,” he continued.
“People who live in the shadows have a terrible time. Don’t we owe those people protection and the opportunity to be fully contributing members of society?”
Stressing the importance of a bill that would treat immigrants with compassion and fairness, McCain spoke again about the immigrants who died in the desert in Arizona.
“That is a part of this issue we can never forget,” he said.