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Sunday, June 27, 2004

McCain: U.S. needs immigration reform

McCain: U.S. needs immigration reform
McCain: U.S. needs immigration reform
Matt Slocum/The Arizona Republic
Arizona Sen. John McCain speaks at the National Council of La Raza's conference Saturday at Phoenix Civic Plaza.
Senator in Valley at Latino event

Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 27, 2004 12:00 AM


The nation that says "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" should not ignore the thousands of migrants who cross the desolate desert of Arizona and other border states, Arizona Sen. John McCain said Saturday in downtown Phoenix.

At the country's largest civil rights gathering of Latinos, the Republican senator used the poem on the Statue of Liberty to emphasize the need for immigration reform and briefly touched on his guest-worker proposal.

"The human tragedy that's taking place in Arizona and across our border must be stopped," he said at a packed luncheon at Phoenix Civic Plaza. "There's a demand to fill jobs that Americans won't do."

McCain called guest-worker proposals good plans but said that Congress is not likely to act "because we're in an election year."

The migrant death toll will continue to rise as immigrants continue to leave behind families and risk their lives for economic opportunities here, he said. McCain's short remarks were received enthusiastically with whistles and applause by many of the 1,500 Latinos at the National Council of La Raza conference.

"Everyone talks and fights about it, but nothing gets done and more people die," said Gladys Lopez-Medina, 41, of Glendale. "There needs to be more alliances between Republicans and Democrats on this. It's time for someone to take the issue seriously."

While NCLR officials lauded McCain for his stand, they said the organization does not support his immigration-reform proposal. McCain, along with fellow Arizona Republicans Reps. Jeff Flake and John Kolbe, introduced a bill that would allow temporary visa-holders who meet certain requirements to become permanent residents.

NCLR Vice President for Policy Cecilia Muñoz says McCain is "making an important contribution to the debate" but said the bill falls short on labor protections and does not quantify the size of the guest-worker program.

Enough with the politics, said Debra Pérez, fix the problem.

"People are coming over to work . . . we have employers hiring these people," said Pérez, 42, a Chandler paralegal. "A lot of us who have the privileges of being native-born don't understand the extent people will risk to come here."

The Latin-flavored luncheon kicked off a day of workshops, a free health and home-ownership expo, and a night of mariachi music and love ballads. NCLR, which began in Phoenix 36 years ago, reaches more than 4 million Latinos nationally. The conference continues through Tuesday and so far has drawn more than 22,000, organizers said. They predict attendance will exceed the forecast 23,000. Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will hold a Latino Community Town Hall on Tuesday at Civic Plaza.

Saturday's gathering drew many national Hispanic leaders, including Henry Cisneros, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, and Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients.

"We get fueled by organizations like NCLR," said Dan Cortez, 38, of Phoenix.

"It's an energizer. You need to listen to speakers and get re-energized so you don't lose that commitment to the community."

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