“Someone who crosses our borders illegally is here illegally,” McCain said after he was asked by one questioner to “please drop the ‘I-word’” and instead refer to such immigrants as “undocumented,” according to a report in the Arizona Republic.
“You can call it whatever you want to, but it’s illegal. I think there’s a big difference between someone who does something that’s illegal and someone who’s undocumented. I’ll continue to call it illegal,” the senator added.
Many Latino advocacy groups and pro-immigration-reform advocates call for referring to those in violation of the country’s immigration laws as “undocumented” instead of “illegal,” arguing that crossing the border alone does not constitute a crime.
McCain also addressed negotiations in the Senate to finalize a bipartisan immigration reform bill. The Gang of Eight in January unveiled a framework that would include strengthened border security and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
But the group has been bogged down in talks over the details. Reports last week said the senators hope to deliver a bill by the middle of April, but McCain would not confirm that timeline.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” he said. “We’re still in serious negotiations, but we have made progress. We are negotiating now, as we are in recess.
"I don’t know if we can achieve agreement or not,” he added. “We’ve been working literally night and day. And we may not succeed. But the other members of this negotiating team, I believe, are negotiating in good faith. We’ve made progress in a number of areas that I am encouraged by, but there are still areas that we are not in agreement.”
The talks come amid growing momentum for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, with a number of conservative lawmakers backing reforms, including legalized status for illegal immigrants. But any legislation would face an uphill fight in the GOP-controlled House.
President Obama has made immigration reform a top priority in his second term and is pressing lawmakers to move legislation quickly. At a naturalization ceremony he hosted at the White House on Monday, Obama said “the time has come” for Congress to act on immigration.
A bipartisan House group is also working on a separate proposal, which has received the general support of leaders from both parties, although details of the plan have not been released.