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Sen. John McCain spoke at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza yesterday in San Diego, coming on the heels of Sen. Barack Obama who appeared there on July 13. Both presidential candidates support passage of “comprehensive” immigration reform legislation (aka, amnesty for illegal aliens), but chose this forum to blame each other for the measure’s demise in 2007.

Candidates Blame Each Other for Failing to Enact Amnesty

Sen. McCain reminded La Raza attendees that he championed the legislation that ultimately failed in Congress although he has, in reality, backed away from that measure somewhat since then. McCain now wants to secure the border first, and then pass “comprehensive” reform. The Washington Times yesterday quoted a McCain advisor as saying steps could be taken to secure the border without the approval of Congress. The advisor said "They require no new legislation, the money is there, the authority is there," the Times reported. His goal is to have border-state governors certify when the border is secure and to seek additional funds and authority only if necessary.

When he spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in June, McCain also backed a temporary worker program which, depending on the details, may or may not put future guest workers on the “path to citizenship” as his 2007 legislation would.

McCain’s efforts to back away from his earlier amnesty bill have not gone unnoticed by open border groups like La Raza and NALEO, and by the Obama campaign, which is now trying to gain traction with Latino voters by slamming McCain.

Yesterday, McCain defended himself by reiterating that he has not backed away from his bill’s ultimate goal. The Times today quotes McCain as saying “When I say I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it. And with all due modestly, I think I have earned that trust." McCain also told La Raza that Sen. Obama voted for amendments to his 2007 bill that ultimately killed the legislation, an accusation the Obama camp denies. A Wall Street Journal blog yesterday reported an Obama spokesperson as saying “The five amendments McCain is pointing to were in fact good faith efforts to improve the bill and work toward compromise and comprehensive reform.”

McCain, unlike Obama, took questions from the audience at La Raza. Attendees asked him to sign an executive order stopping immigration raids and to stop building the border fence. He refused saying he would enforce the immigration laws, according to the TImes. However, McCain's interest in enforcement did not stop him from criticizing member of his own Party -- presumably those interested in immigration reduction -- who he said injected "insults" into the immigration debate.

Speaking at the La Raza convention on July 13, Obama accused McCain of abandoning his bill. He said, "McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform and I admired him for it. But when he was running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote. Well, I don't know about you, but I think it's time for a President who won't walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular….(W)e need a practical solution for the problem of 12 million people who are here without documentation, many of whom have lived and worked here for years. That's why we need to offer those who are willing to make amends a pathway to citizenship."

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Updated: Tue, Jul 15th 2008 @ 7:52am EDT