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McCain: GOP will back plan offering ‘tough road’ to citizenship

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday said he was confident he could convince fellow GOP lawmakers to back a bipartisan immigration reform proposal, saying it provided a “tough road” to citizenship for illegal immigrants. 

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” McCain acknowledged the Senate framework unveiled on Monday would have to override conservative fears reform would provide “amnesty” to undocumented workers, but said the effort would succeed.

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“This is not amnesty, it’s a tough road to citizenship, but we’ve got to give them the opportunity to do so,” said McCain. "You can’t have 11 million people living in the shadows forever, and that is a growing realization amongst our Republican friends.”

McCain said he expected to face opposition, but believed that GOP lawmakers would eventually back efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

“Of course there is going to be resistance,” he said. “There’s resistance on both sides of the aisle, because maybe these are too-tough provisions.”

McCain is one of eight senators who on Monday outlined an immigration-reform proposal that would grant illegal immigrants temporary status, create a pathway to citizenship, increase the number of skilled workers and institute guest-worker and employer-verification programs.

The proposal comes amid growing momentum on immigration reform, with President Obama set to unveil his own proposals during a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday. On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said this weekend that a bipartisan group is working on unveiling its own plan.

Measures offering illegal immigrants the opportunity to become citizens, though, are likely to face the sharpest pushback from GOP lawmakers, many of whom deride such proposals as amnesty.

McCain said that once GOP lawmakers examined the details of the Senate blueprint they would see that the path to citizenship was coupled with tough penalties and forceful measures to improve border security.

“We do provide a path to citizenship, but it is not a path to citizenship that is easy,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who signed on to the Senate immigration blueprint, appearing with McCain. “You have to work, you have to pay taxes, you are going to pay a fine. There is some admission of wrongdoing. It is not amnesty in any sense of the word, and we are making that clear.”

McCain added that Republicans needed to “realize the realities of the 21st century,” and cited the overwhelming support for President Obama among Hispanic voters in the 2012 election as shifting the political landscape.

“One of the big factors, of course, is the polarization of the Hispanic vote and the realization among Republicans that when the Democrat candidate gets 71 percent of the vote, we can do the math and see the descent towards irrelevancy or a failure to win an election,” he said.

Schumer said that momentum was now on the side of immigration reform advocates.

“Look at the polling data. Americans have had a sea change since 2007. Seventy-seven percent support a balanced plan with a fair earned pathway to citizenship and protecting borders and preventing future illegal immigration,” said Schumer. “The public’s on our side; we can’t let strident voices from the far right or the far left scuttle this effort.”