Arizona Sen. John McCain's town hall in Tucson Saturday was all about immigration.
McCain had sounded a note of support for Arizona's tough new immigration, calling it a “good tool” for law enforcement. But he stopped short of fully endorsing the measure.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at all the aspects, but I do understand why the Legislature would act,” he said. Even though it wasn’t clear to him “whether all of it is legal or not,” he said state lawmakers “acted out of frustration because the federal government didn’t do its job.”
He spoke of his 10-point plan to do that, including boosting border troops, paying them more, finishing the fence, improving communications equipment and giving more resources to local law enforcement.
Several in the crowd said they support the new law and expressed frustration about the lack of enforcement.
Bob Foy, a 68-year-old retired lieutenant in the Los Angeles sheriff’s department, said holes in border enforcement are allowing the free flow of narcotics and weapons into the country. “We’re in such imminent danger that we don’t have another 100 years to get this straight,” he said. The new law, while “not the perfect answer, is an answer,” he said.
One woman said she lives near the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which is being “trashed” by border crossers. Another said her daughter’s boyfriend is an illegal immigrant who has been in prison three times and keeps coming back.
One man chimed in that he was concerned about the mood, saying he was getting a vibe of animosity toward Mexican people in general.
McCain responded, “I am worried about anti-Hispanic feeling in this country and I am concerned about condemning good, honest citizens of Hispanic origin because of this (immigration) problem.” He noted Tucson was a Spanish-speaking city before it was English and he cherished the Latino heritage.
But pointing to the murder of rancher Robert Krentz, he said border problems need to be addressed not only for citizens here but for immigrants, who aren’t protected under American laws and are preyed upon by criminal elements.
Pressed by one woman to call Grijalva’s boycott irresponsible, McCain said he strongly disagrees with it, especially since the economy is hurting so badly.
McCain, who has previously backed efforts to strengthen border security while creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, has been speaking almost exclusively about border security this election season. The primary race pits him against former U.S. Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is painting himself as the more conservative option.
McCain’s border stance sits just fine with 60-year-old Patricia Patterson, a concierge. “I was on the fence about a few things, and then I saw him shift away from amnesty and that brought me back to his side,” she said.
Meanwhile, 29-year-old film student Omar Martinez said he’s leaning toward McCain also. “I was crushed by the new law,” he said. While he’s fearful that people of Mexican descent like himself will be made scapegoats, particularly given deep economic frustrations, he said he was pleased with McCain’s comments respecting his culture.