U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake spent time in Arizona in August, during the congressional summer recess, and addressed a number of federal issues to local audiences, including in Tucson.
Both senators, in separate Tucson appearances, stressed the importance of federal immigration reform. But went beyond the talking points about increased border security, or whether a path to citizenship for immigrants is appropriate. The pair also talked about the reform package and the benefits it would bring to employers. The reform bill, which passed the U.S. Senate in June, is yet to be voted on in the House of Representatives.
"Employers need access to the best and the brightest. Right now...Canada and Australia offer more high-tech visas than does the United States. That’s wrong...When you look at Silicon Valley and realize that half of the start-up firms over the past 30 years were started by foreigners, foreign-born students who decided to stay," Flake said.
"Today, too many of them are turned away, they go back to India or China or Bulgaria or wherever else and start businesses that compete with us. And we ought to roll out the red carpet."
McCain argued that about 40 percent of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. did not cross the border illegally. He said they came with a visa, but overstayed that visa.
We would have an expanded program for agriculture workers, and we would also have the low-income worker visas as well," he explained.
E-Verify would help the situation, McCain said.
"Every person who seeks employment must have documentation (stating) they are in this country legally, and if they don’t have that documentation, then the employer -if that employer hires them- will be subject to severe penalties," the senator said.
Flake and McCain also criticized sequestration, the across-the-board federal budget cuts happening now as a result of a failed budget deal in 2011. Both of them said they disagree with that approach, and would rather see targeted budget cuts.
“In interest of full disclosure, I voted for it," McCain said. "Dumbest vote I’ve made while I’ve been in the Congress, and so all I’m trying to do is sit down with Democrats...the president, and sit down with my Republican colleagues (to stop this) for a period if time."
Flake said sequestration is a "lazy way to legislate."
"But, (the problems that we have are) deeper than the sequester," he argued. "It's the way we go about appropriating or authorizing..."
Gun legislation was another hot topic at the their Tucson appearances. McCain has been praised for voting on a bill that would expand background checks for those trying to purchase a gun, while Flake has been criticized for voting against such bill.
"I’m one who always felt we ought to strengthen our background checks system, particularly as it has to do with the mentally ill, and I’ve offered legislation to do that," Flake said. "The problem in my view with the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment that came forward is that it went far beyond that, and it would have dealt with a lot of private sales just not in a realistic way."
McCain highlighted his concern of mentally unstable people who have weapons in their hands.
"That is one aspect of this issue that we have not addressed appropriately, and there should be some kind of an agreement that someone who is mentally ill...should not have access to a weapon," McCain said. "I would urge our friends who would spend the rest of their lives dedicated to this proposition to help us with that aspect of this legislation that we might be able to pass.”