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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hayworth Distorts McCain’s Immigration Record — Again

In his second TV ad, Republican challenger J.D. Hayworth continues to distort Arizona Sen. John McCain’s record on immigration policy.

McCain ‘Made It Worse’?

The ad, which started to air July 29, opens with an announcer saying: "The illegal alien invasion, and John McCain made it worse." In rapid fire, the ad lists a few of the ways McCain supposedly made things worse, beginning with: "McCain wrote the amnesty bill." The words "Wrote the amnesty bill" are stamped across the screen, citing the bill number for the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act.

Yes, McCain wrote that bill in 2005. But how did it make the immigration problem worse? The ad fails to mention that the bill never became law, so it could not have possibly had any impact on the illegal immigration problem.

In fact, the last attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation in 2007 supported by McCain would have reduced the illegal immigration population, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. McCain’s 2005 bill was the basis for the Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2007, which was the result of bipartisan negotiations between the Bush administration and Senate leadership.

Here’s what the CBO said about the impact of the enforcement and employer verification provisions of that legislation:

CBO, June 4, 2007: In contrast, the enforcement and verification requirements of the legislation would act to reduce the size of the U.S. population. CBO estimates that implementing those requirements would reduce the net annual flow of illegal immigrants by one-quarter, reducing the projected population by 1.5 million people in 2017 and by 3.6 million people in 2027 (including the effects on citizen children). Other aspects of the legislation are likely to increase the number of illegal immigrants — in particular, through people overstaying their visas from the guest-worker and H-1B programs. CBO expects that the enforcement measures and the higher number of overstayers would, on net, diminish the number of unauthorized immigrants by about 500,000 in 2017 and about 1.3 million in 2027.

Hindered Border Security?

Next the ad accuses McCain of opposing the U.S.-Mexico border fence and voting against border security funding — citing specific votes.

It’s simply false to say McCain "opposed the border fence" based on a single vote. McCain did vote against an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007 that would have allocated an additional $1.8 billion to construct double-layered fencing and vehicle barriers along the southwest border. However, that amendment failed overwhelmingly: Half of the Republicans (including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky) and all but two Democrats voted against it.

Why was the amendment defeated? There was a trade-off involved that many senators were not willing to make. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, chairman at the time of the subcommittee that wrote the Homeland Security spending bill, told the Associated Press that the amendment would have resulted in across-the-board cuts in Homeland Security’s budget. Judd told the AP that would have meant cutting 750 new border-patrol agents and 1,200 new detention beds for illegal immigrants, for example. "[T]he real issue here is the offset that’s being used, and the offset creates a Hobson’s choice for almost everyone here," Judd told the AP.

Less than three months after that vote, McCain and 79 other senators overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The New York Times said McCain was one of the "Republican architects of the Senate bill," which became law.

Hayworth’s ad uses the same flawed logic when it declares that McCain "voted against border security funding." The vote cited in the ad was another amendment to the 2007 Homeland Security spending bill. Although the amendment would have appropriated $85 million for 800 additional full-time immigration investigators, McCain and a majority of Republicans — including all five Republican senators representing border states — voted against it, because it would have required cutting funding for other homeland security programs.

Pitting Seniors Against Illegal Immigrants

Similar to his first TV spot, Hayworth falsely states in his new ad that McCain "allowed illegal immigrants to get Social Security and Medicare … even if they committed fraud.” First of all, McCain’s immigration bill never became law, so it is simply not true that McCain "allowed" anything like this to happen. Even if the bill had become law, however, it would not have allowed anyone who is here illegally to get a penny of benefits. First, illegal immigrants would have had to pay a fine and meet other conditions to become eligible for legal residence (as we have written before). And then they would have needed to work and pay taxes long enough to be eligible for benefits.

In a new approach, the Hayworth campaign makes a point of contrasting McCain’s treatment of seniors with his treatment of illegal immigrants. The ad says: "And McCain voted against the Medicare prescription drug program for seniors, but allowed illegal aliens to get Social Security and Medicare."

It’s true that McCain voted against the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush and now provides seniors with prescription drug benefits under the Medicare program. He was only one of nine Republican senators to vote against it. The McCain campaign told us the senator opposed the bill because he saw it as an expensive and massive expansion of a government program.

Hayworth, who voted for the Medicare prescription bill while a member of the House of Representatives, can rightfully contrast his vote with McCain’s position. But it’s a false contrast to pit McCain’s vote on senior prescription drugs with McCain’s bill on illegal immigrants: As we said, it is just wrong to say that McCain "allowed" illegal immigrants to get Medicare benefits.

— Lara Seligman