Exclusive: John McCain on Romney, Latinos and Immigration

In a Fox News Latino exclusive, Juan Williams interviews Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona about Mitt Romney and Latinos, the border, and then Senator Obama's role in defeating immigration reform.

Immigration is Holding the GOP Back with Latinos

Juan Williams: Senator, why do you keep saying that the Hispanic vote is up for grabs, when polls consistently show that President Obama has close to seventy percent support in the Latino community?

Senator John McCain:And he had very strong, strong support in 2008 as well.  Because I think that there are many values, and things that we share, we Republicans: lower taxes, pro military, small business, you know how Hispanic or Latinos are small business people, pro-life. There are many areas there that they would, in my view, would be naturally attracted to the Republican banner.  And, in fact George Bush, Bush II, did well in his elections, with Hispanic voters.  And, we all know what the answer is, and what the problem is.  It’s the issue of immigration.  And we have to treat it in a humane fashion, and we have to understand that with any new wave of immigrants that comes to our country, whether it be Irish, or Italian, Poles, whoever it is, Hispanics in America, or Latinos, have an allegiance to the people who are coming and that are still in the country they came from.

Drugs, Human Trafficking and Border Security

McCain: Most of the people now who come across, or large numbers of the people who come across, are brought by coyotes.  The young women are raped. They’re put in drop houses in Phoenix, Arizona, where they are kept in the most unspeakable conditions, and held for ransom.  These are human rights abuses, not to mention the tearing up of our wildlife refuges, which are taking place by these drug dealers and others who are coming across.  We have made progress, but we have by no means gotten our border secure.  So obviously Americans want both.  They want both a secure border. That’s an obligation of every country. But I think they also understand that we have a serious issue out there that needs to be addressed.  And I think…

Williams: But Senator, I think you know…

McCain: Yeah, go ahead.

Williams: …that in fact, most of the undocumented people in the United States don’t come across the border, and they’re certainly not trafficked, not brought across by coyotes. They’re people who come here on legal visas, and simply overstay that visa.

McCain: Well, just because we have not addressed that issue, which we can and should, doesn’t mean that we still don’t have a serious problem with drugs coming across our borders.

Williams: But don’t you think that that is wrong, it’s a distortion, that the Republican debate about immigration is centered on drugs and illegal human trafficking?

McCain: The use of drugs, in fact, I just saw a news report, after going down, is now on the way up again, amongst young people.  We can’t ignore that problem.  That’s…

Williams: But I’m saying, isn’t that a separate problem?

McCain: No, I think because…

Williams: A separate issue?

McCain: Not as long as those drugs, the majority of them, are being brought across our border illegally.

Obama Helped to Kill Immigration Reform

[Immigration reform] was destroyed by people like then-Senator Obama on the left, and some who are opposed to agricultural worker program, and by some on the right who obviously called it, quote, amnesty.  So, the irony of all this is, that then-Senator Obama was part of the destruction of the effort that Ted Kennedy and I made.  But you won’t hear that very often.

— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

McCAIN: Ted Kennedy and I were doing immigration reform.  It was Senator Obama who went to the floor and proposed an amendment which would sunset the guest worker program that Ted Kennedy and I had agreed to, which which was partially the reason why we destroyed immigration reform.  It was destroyed by people like then-Senator Obama on the left, and some who are opposed to the agricultural worker program, and by some on the right who called it, quote, amnesty.  So, the irony of all this is that then-Senator Obama was part of the destruction of the effort that Ted Kennedy and I made.  But you won’t hear that very often.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the votes, though, didn’t come from the Republican side.  President Bush was in favor of it.

McCAIN: Yes.

WILLIAMS:  I believe you were in favor of it.

McCAIN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: But the defeat came from a lot of the talk radio people on the far right, who took away Republican votes in the Congress.

McCAIN: It was a group on the far right, and it was also on the left, the Farm Workers of America and trade unions who were opposed to the guest worker program provision.  The greatness of Ted Kennedy, as you know, was that he was willing —he and I agreed to vote against amendments that we otherwise might support.  And I saw him speak rather sternly to then-Senator Obama, when Senator Obama proposed the amendment to quote, sunset, in other words, end, the guest worker program, while the rest of the immigration reform continued.

WILLIAMS:  And you think this will be highlighted in the course of the campaign, by the Romney folks?

McCAIN: I don’t know, to tell you the truth.


McCAIN: People have a tendency to forget these things, and a lot of people don’t understand the way we work in the Senate.  Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know.

John McCain's Legacy with Latinos

WILLIAMS: Historically, you have been much admired, loved by Latinos in your community, in Arizona, thirty percent of the state.

McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: But as the GOP has pulled to the right, it looks like you have abandoned so much of your support for pro-immigrant policies.  It looks like you said, you know what, we’ve got to wait until that border is secure, even as the border has become more secure.  So, are people right to criticize you as having abandoned the immigrant community?

McCAIN: Well I hope not.  But I do also understand, though, that there have been increases in border security.  There’s no doubt about that.  But has there been enough?  As I pointed out to you, the price for an ounce of cocaine on the street in Chicago is not one penny more than it was before we started all this.  We can use technology, we can do things that rather than just hiring people.  But right now, for example, our wildlife refuges in southern Arizona are being destroyed.  That’s something that’s a desecration of our history.  So I think that, working together, we can work out immigration reform, which has to do with guest worker programs, which has to do with not necessarily granting citizenship, but giving people legal status.  Also, this issue of course, of children who were brought here, has to be addressed as well.  And, there will be people on both ends of the spectrum who…

WILLIAMS: Who stand in the way.

McCAIN: Who—yeah…

Mitt Romney and the Hispanic Voter

WILLIAMS: Well, let’s look at the likely GOP nominee stance.  Mitt Romney, on immigration reform, opposes the Dream Act, opposes pathways to Citizenship.  In fact, he’s calling for self-deportation.  He opposes guest worker programs, opposes tuition breaks for undocumented kids who are in the United States.  Why would Hispanics vote for that candidate?

McCAIN:  Well, first of all, Mitt Romney is solidly in favor of immigration reform.  He knows that there are twelve million people who are in this country illegally.  He knows you have to address it.  He has also stated recently that we have to address it in a humane fashion.  The issue of self-deportation...There are some Hispanics who have gone back to the country that they are from mainly because of the economic conditions here,  but he doesn’t think that’s the entire answer to the issue.  As you know Marco Rubio and some others are working on a version of the Dream Act.  And, by the way, he does not oppose guest worker programs --either for high tech or for agricultural workers.

Look, Mitt Romney understands that we have a challenge with the Hispanic voter.  I believe, as this campaign moves on, that you will see him addressing this issue of the need for immigration reform.  We all know what we need to happen.

Let me just add one more small point. I’m sorry for the long answer, but you are touching on one of the key issues of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  We still do have a huge problem with drugs coming across our border.  There are a hundred guides sitting on mountaintops right now in Arizona, guiding the drug cartels as they bring the drugs across the Arizona/Mexico border, up to Phoenix, where they are distributed throughout the nation.  And the price of cocaine, by the way, on the street, has not gone up one penny, despite all of our drug efforts.  That’s the best indicator as to how we’re doing on the, quote, war on drugs.  So there’s a bigger problem than just illegal immigrants coming across our border.  There are still drugs, and we’re creating a demand, and that’s, you know, a big part of the issue.

Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst and special contributor to Fox News Latino. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in 2011. He also writes for The Hill and on TheHill.com.

This interview was produced by Victor Garcia.  Follow him on twitter @MrVicGarcia.