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McCain: Backing immigration reform won’t hurt GOP lawmakers in primaries

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that he didn’t think Republican lawmakers would be hurt in GOP primaries if they supported a comprehensive immigration overhaul. 

McCain said he thought that GOP office holders would survive if an immigration bill helped secure U.S. borders, and didn’t repeat the mistakes of previous legislation on the issue. 

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“I think it’s going to be O.K.,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“As long as they are satisfied that we have effective control over our border, and we don’t make the mistake of 1986. We gave amnesty to three million people and then we ended up with 11 million here illegally. We can’t have a third wave.”

McCain has been working with seven other senators from both parties – including Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – on a framework for a broad immigration bill. 

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A bipartisan House group is also working on immigration, and President Obama has called it a top priority. 

But some conservatives have criticized the idea of immigration reform, and McCain took some heat about his work on the issue at town halls in Arizona last week. 

“That’s what town halls are supposed to be about,” McCain said. “Sometimes they become very spirited.”

“I think that most Americans – if these people who have come here illegally pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and get in line behind everybody else – that that’s a key element of it,” he added. “And most Americans now realize we can’t have 11 million people sitting in the twilight, in the shadows of America forever.”