McCain on Immigration: "We cannot have 11 million people living in the shadows" (With CBS News Video)
Senator McCain speaking to the press about immigration reform, Jan. 28, 2013. Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
(CBS News) Arizona Sen. John McCain was one of the bipartisan group of eight senators who unveiled a sweeping proposal to overhaul U.S. immigration laws on Monday. The plan would grant temporary legal status to most of the 11 million illegal immigrants if they pass a criminal background check, pay a fine in back taxes, and learn English. The plan also calls for increased border security and a tougher visa process, and McCain has said that for him, securing the borders is the first priority.
A newly released CBS News poll shows 51 percent of Americans think illegal immigrants now working in the U.S. should be able to stay and apply for citizenship. The White House endorsed the plan on Monday, hoping to speed its passage.
McCain deflected criticism coming from within the Republican party that the plan amounts to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and Tuesday on "CBS This Morning," he urged his fellow lawmakers to take a closer look at the proposed legislation.
"I hope they do look closely because border enforcement and border security is a prerequisite and obviously that makes sense since we don't want to have a repeat again some years from now of another group coming to this country illegally... that's a precondition, we can do it... we have the capabilities."
"People who have not committed a crime here ... will have a legal status but they will not be able to have citizenship before they line up behind those who came here legally to get a green card on a path to citizenship," McCain said, insisting the plan does not offer amnesty to illegal immigrants.
"I hope that as more Americans see this proposal, that they will understand that we cannot have, forever, 11 million people living in the shadows in this country," he added.
President Obama is planning to announce Tuesday that same-sex couples will be part of the immigration reform proposals, according to Buzzfeed. Under the framework outlined by Obama -- which differs slightly from the Senate framework released Monday -- same-sex bi-national couples, those with one American and one foreign partner, will be included in the proposed legislation.
Under current law, bi-national same-sex couples are not eligible for the green cards that opposite-sex couples are entitled to receive.
McCain dismissed the White House addition, saying "It's something that, frankly, is not of paramount importance at this time." He allowed, "We'll have to look at it... to gauge how the majority of Congress feels. ...We need to get broad consensus on our proposal to start with."
And while McCain has previously said that the path to citizenship should be contingent upon securing the border with Mexico first, he insists the process of securing the border will not slow progress toward legislation.
The border state Senator will convene a "commission made up of the most knowledgeable people including border state governors," and explained, "the final decision will be made by the secretary of homeland security."
And while others within the GOP -- including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- take issue with what he called a "short-sighted" push to secure the border, McCain insisted, "All I can say is that the people who live in the Southern part of my state deserve the same security you have... it's a humanitarian issue."