Sen. John McCain, Former Gov. Haley Barbour Keynote Immigration Conference

November 1, 2013 — “This is an effort about the present and the future of America,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on immigration reform at the 10th annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference at Georgetown Law on October 31.

“It’s about what defines what kind of a nation we are. And the reason why the United States … is the exceptional nation and the last century was called the American Century is because we’ve had a fresh infusion of blood and vitality into our nation generation after generation in our history. And that is something we should celebrate.” 

McCain served as the afternoon keynote at the conference, co-sponsored by Georgetown Law, the Migration Policy Institute, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and the Center for Migration Studies. 

The senator addressed criticisms that the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June would harm the economy and displace American workers — “demonstrably false,” McCain said — and that it would fail to secure the border. “Friends, if we implemented all the provisions in this legislation, we would have the most heavily guarded border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” 

McCain also spoke frankly about the shutdown. “The damage that was done to innocent citizens in my state … is reprehensible,” he said, citing 600,000 denied to Arizona’s national parks, concession workers not paid and $45 million lost. “This is not what the American people deserve, and we’re getting the deserved repudiation from the American people.” 

While panelists at the conference were not generally optimistic about immigration reform in the House, there was plenty on the table for discussion throughout the day, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, the role of employers and lessons learned from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. 

Visiting Professor Andrew I. Schoenholtz, who led a panel on border security, also helped welcome the morning keynote speaker, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

When Hurricane Katrina rendered a large portion of Mississippi housing uninhabitable, the state desperately needed labor — and Barbour found himself a supporter of immigration reform. Barbour also noted that America does not have the resources to arrest, incarcerate and deport millions of immigrants who have already been working here for years or decades. “Why in God’s name would we send them home?” he asked.

A webcast is available here.