ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports: Arizona Sen. John McCain and his Republican colleagues have long said they will only join Democrats on a comprehensive immigration reform deal if and when the southwest border is secured.
Now McCain says he wants to develop a mutually-agreeable set of benchmarks with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for what level of security is sufficient and how to determine when that goal has been met.
“We have to agree on certain criteria on what is successful securing of our border,” McCain said today during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing. “I think it would be very helpful to all of us if you could lay out what is necessary, what assets need to be devoted and what statistics could show us that the border is being secured, and at that time I think we could move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.”
The comments signal a shift in McCain’s willingness to engage in dialogue on the issue and possibly support a reform bill in the new Congress.
McCain has been an outspoken critic of Napolitano’s border security efforts in his state, and has disputed the administration’s claims that the border overall is as secure now as it’s ever been.
“Statistics can be manipulated to prove anything,” he said in June. “But the cold hard fact is that our border is far from secure.”
But today, perhaps signaling a thaw, McCain said Napolitano “quite appropriately” points out the record number of resources and enforcement actions her agency has undertaken along the border, even though he believes conditions have deteriorated in part of his state.
“I think of the metrics we do have, and they're all going in the right direction,” Napolitano told McCain. “But here's the problem: the problem is they're not going in the right direction fast enough in the Tucson sector, and that's the sector to which you refer.”
Napolitano has previously rejected Republicans “secure border” precondition for progress on immigration reform. But today she suggested a willingness to sit down with McCain and arrive at a common vision for what a reasonably secure border would look like.
“These numbers jump around all the time,” she said of statistical measures of border enforcement. “But at a certain point we have to be able to agree that the Tucson sector has become akin to say El Paso, [Texas], for example, and at that point proceed to the other discussion [immigration reform] to which you refer.”