Uncertain Path

Republican candidate Martha McSally talks immigration reform

The Tucson Weekly recently spoke with Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally about a variety of issues. This week, we present her thoughts on immigration reform.

What are your thoughts on a path to citizenship for people who are in the country illegally?

Can I give you my perspective on the whole immigration debate? Our immigration system is broken. It is not helping us have a pro-growth immigration policy. We've always been a country of immigrants. And so our current system, which is painfully slow—it's based on quotas and family relationships and those kinds of things, but not necessarily based on bringing in hard-working people at all ends of the spectrum that are going to be entrepreneurs. It's just broken. And that's on all ends. So on the high end, we have students with engineering and science degrees going back to work in China and India, and on the low end, we've got border communities that are looking for legal ways to have laborers come over and assist them. So I think most people can agree that the system is broken and our legal immigration system needs to be reformed. ... Lumping it all together the way they have in the Senate—I mean, I get politically why they felt they had to do some of that to get different sides to agree to stuff, but I think we're now seeing, in the example of Obamacare, that when you have a big monstrosity of legislation that tries to solve a whole lot of problems all together, that is really complex, and that has lots of federal agencies involved, and new authorities and programs and things like that, I think we're seeing with Obamacare that that's not necessarily a positive thing for us. So the trust in government and government agencies to actually do something well and efficiently has been diminished over the last year. So what should our priorities be? We need to reform legal immigration. We do need to secure the border. This is not just an immigration issue, it's a security issue, with all the illegal activity and the cartels and the violence that is coming through. That's got to be addressed still and hasn't been. And the Senate bill tried to address that by throwing money at the problem there at the end to get Republican votes. Money isn't the issue. It's the strategy that is the issue. We need a better strategy about how to secure the border and we need to also do it in a way that we're encouraging commerce and we're taking advantage of our close proximity to Mexico. We shouldn't just be throwing more border agents around; we also have to address the manning of the border ports in order to have the commerce work. There is legitimate concern that any change to the status of people who are here illegally, if it is not done correctly, it could look just like the 1980s, when you had, I don't know what you'd call it ...

I think that was straight-up amnesty.

It didn't secure the border and it didn't disincentivize any further illegal activity. So I think there's legitimate concern, if we are changing the status of an illegal, how would it be different from last time?

I don't know if you've talked to Sen. McCain about his legislation at all.

No, I haven't.

Obviously, he's very passionate about it. He has been making speech after speech about how we need to take care of these 11 million people who are in the country now and are undocumented. And we need to provide them with a path to citizenship because that's who we are as Americans, that we need to resolve this because people are continuing to die in the desert, (and) because we are closing off a portion of our nation to these people. That's John McCain's argument. As well as his political one, that the Republican Party needs to stop alienating Latinos. But what he would say is different (from 1986) is that there is a fine involved. That there are fees involved. That there is a 13-year path to citizenship. Your thoughts on that proposal from John McCain?

I think the priority needs to be to reform the legal system to get it more streamlined, to secure the border, and once we have built confidence and trust in the government again, we can maybe look at that next element of it as a political solution by upholding the rule of law, making sure that people know there are penalties when they have broken the law, and ensuring that they are not given an advantage over those who have chosen to break the law. So reform the legal immigration system to have one path to citizenship through that, whatever that is. That would be reform. Right now, it's a painfully long, arduous, confusing path for people to legally do it. So whatever that reform would look like, that would based more on our economic benefit. I think then you have a discussion on allowing some legal status, with penalties and upholding the rule of law, and not a second or special path to citizenship, if that makes sense. There needs to be one path to citizenship and those who have broken the law don't get a special path.

Should they be given a path at all?

I think that should be open for discussion.

So you're not strongly opposed or strongly supportive either way?

I'm open to that discussion, but I think the priority needs to be reforming the legal immigration system, adjusting the border security, upholding the rule of law and making sure we have trust in the system so we're not further incentivizing illegal activity.

Philosophically, do you think the president erred in providing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?

I think, philosophically, he was doing that because the 2012 election was coming up and he was doing everything as a campaign move, it seems. I prefer that these things go through Congress, even though Congress is dysfunctional. The executive orders that he's putting out, I don't agree with philosophically. I get that we need to have compassion for the kids who were brought here not of their own choice. I get that. We do need to address that. So I think the way Obama dealt with it was more about the election.

If he hadn't dealt with it that way, would you rather they still be on the wrong side of the law and be rounded up and deported?

I would rather that Congress would have addressed it thoughtfully. It's difficult to address that as a single issue when you're not addressing the bigger issues of how are we going to reform the system so we're not just dealing with this symptom of a larger problem that continues to perpetuate because we're not addressing border security and we're not addressing the legal immigration system.