John McCain Defends Immigration Plan at Testy Town Hall

The Arizona senator takes heat from Arizona residents over immigration reform.

ByABC News
February 20, 2013, 11:11 AM

Feb. 20, 2013— -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended his immigration reform proposals during a contentious town hall event on Tuesday in his home state.

The senator is a member of a bipartisan group of eight senators crafting a bill that contains a pathway to citizenship for many of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he heard an earful from constituents who were unhappy about the plan and want more to be done to secure the border.

See Also: Obama's Leaked Immigration Bill Makes Waves

"There are 11 million people living here illegally," McCain said, according to the Associated Press. "We are not going to get enough buses to deport them."

Speaking at the event in Sun Lakes, a suburb of Phoenix, McCain defended the plan to grant a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and get to the back of the line for green cards, saying the government should show mercy to those individuals.

"You're not telling these people the truth. They mow our laws, they care for our babies, that's what those people do. So you're wrong, sir," he told one man in the crowd, identified by a Phoenix NBC affiliate as Keith Smith of Chandler, Ariz.

He explained during the event that the Senate plan would provide for further border security measures and that the path to citizenship would be contingent on more security metrics being met, according to media reports. But he rejected the notion that the federal government has done nothing to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

"You said build the danged fence," Smith said, referencing one of the senator's 2010 campaign ads, "Where's the fence?"

"That's not a fence? It's a banana," McCain shot back, somewhat cryptically. "We've put up a banana with about $600 million of the appropriations we have."

Several members in the crowd of 150 continued to voice opposition to the plan, with one man yelling that only guns could prevent illegal immigration, the AP reported.

The event got so heated at one point that the Arizona GOP senator lashed out at a man who identified himself as a former police officer, according to the Arizona Republic.

"You know something? I've had town-hall meetings for 30 years," McCain said. "People are very happy that I have town-hall meetings and I listen to them and I get back to you, and this is what this is all about. And, occasionally, I get a jerk like you here. So thank you."

While many Republicans, including McCain and his Arizona counterpart Jeff Flake, have voiced support for immigration reform, the town hall is a sign that many grassroots conservatives are still wary of the plan being crafted in the Senate.

But after the event, McCain downplayed any controversy.

"Oh sure, there are people that are unhappy," McCain said, according to the Republic. "Most of the people in here are happy. Most of the people in here agree with me."