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McCain on merit-based immigration bill: 'I wouldn't do it'

McCain on merit-based immigration bill: 'I wouldn't do it'
© Keren Carrion

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Republicans have dumped Reagan for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday cast doubt on a Trump administration-backed bill that would clamp down on legal immigration and establish a merit-based immigration system.

In an interview with the Arizona Republic, McCain said he is not opposed to promoting such skills-based immigration, but voiced concern about how the measure could affect farm labor and other low-skilled work.

"I think you have to consider that we do want high-tech people, but we also need low-skilled people who will do work that Americans won't do," he said. "I wouldn't do it. Even in my misspent youth, I wouldn't do it."

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President Trump threw his support behind a measure proposed by Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Wednesday. That legislation would establish a system by which prospective immigrants are judged by their median salary, education level, ability to speak English and whether their skills are in economic demand.

McCain also said he's ready to revive a comprehensive immigration reform effort aimed at providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. 

The Arizona Republican said he raised the idea with Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.) before heading back to his home state this week to begin cancer treatment. 

"Immigration reform is one of the issues I'd like to see resolved," McCain told the Arizona Republic. "I've got to talk to him (Schumer) about when would be the best time. I think there are all kinds of deals to be made out there. I really do."

Both McCain and Schumer were part of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" – the group of senators who authored an unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013.

McCain also voiced skepticism about Trump's proposed border wall, saying that the structure would be unlikely to stymie illegal immigration and drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Instead, he told the Arizona Republic, border security should rely more heavily on surveillance technologies, like drones. 

"I'm not against a border wall, okay, but go to China and you'll see a border wall there," he said. "We need technology, we need drones, we need surveillance capabilities and we need rapid-reaction capabilities."

"But to think that a wall is going to stop illegal immigration or drugs is crazy."