Your first idea of Sen. John McCain might not be of a fierce and witty defender of immigration reform. After watching clips from his town hall meetings this week, though, you might have to change your perception.
With Congress in recess, Sen. McCain spoke with constituents in his home state of Arizona about the bipartisan immigration reform principles he has been instrumental in drafting. They include increased border security, coupled with a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrant — a compromise, if you will, and what most politicians view as necessary to pass a bill.
Some of his constituents are less than happy about this. McCain faced tough questioning during his town halls, with voters calling for everything from army presence to increased border fencing, and accusing him of “doing nothing.”
In the face of these accusations, McCain reared his head and shot back his own arguments, pointing out the reality and the morality of the situation.
To the man who wanted to send the army to the border, the Senator explained that the border in question is 2,000 miles long and would require 2 million soldiers to guard completely. To calls to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, he simply replied, “They are not gonna do that!” reminding those who continued to press him on the issue that “I’m in charge, you’re not.”
One angry constituent asked repeatedly where the “dang fence” that McCain had promised was. The senator turned to a chart illustrating how much fence had been constructed (hint: it’s a lot), and the man shot back that it was not a fence. “Oh, it’s not a fence?” McCain challenged. “OK, it’s a banana. We put up a banana with about $600 million of appropriations.”
Wow. Talk about laying down the law.
McCain even alluded to the work of the faith community on changing the message on immigration. Why are we not going to deport immigrants who have been living in the country for over 40 years? “Because we are a Judeo-Christian nation,” McCain affirmed. Mass deportation is contrary to our values.
McCain’s willingness to stand up to his constituents shows that the work of the faith community to re-brand this issue and push politicians to work for reform has been successful. If a senator from Arizona, a state known for its anti-immigrant sentiment, is able to push back against his constituents, we know that our efforts have been successful.
We need to continue our work, though. Policy alone cannot make us a nation that welcomes our brothers and sisters, and the fear and misunderstanding that many of McCain’s constituents displayed shows we have a long way to go. As we thank our political leaders for their courage, let’s also remember to bring the message of welcome to our communities and churches.
If John McCain can do it, so can we.