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Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

McCain campaigns for Hutchinson

ROGERS - Arizona Sen. John McCain, a possible 2008 Republican presidential contender, said Monday in northwest Arkansas that he favors a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

McCain campaigned in the state for GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson as more than 2,000 people rallied at the state Capitol in support of the Hispanic community and against immigration legislation pending in Congress.

"Today, we're seeing unprecedented protests in the U.S." by those who want a method for illegal immigrants to establish legal residency, McCain said at a Rogers news conference with Hutchinson. "These are mainly young people who are citizens who have passion for this issue because it concerns their parents and grandparents."

McCain said he was opposed to legislation that "rewards people for breaking the law" but supported a compromise that would require illegal immigrants to pay a fine and back-taxes, then "go to the end of the line for getting citizenship."

McCain answered questions about immigration and casinos operated by American Indian tribes during the news conference. He and Hutchinson also hosted a town hall meeting later at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, and McCain was to highlight a evening fundraiser for Hutchinson in Arkansas' capital city.

McCain described Arkansas a potential swing state and "weathervane" in national elections. He did not mention Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, another possible GOP president contender in 2008. Huckabee said he did not plan to attend the Hutchinson fundraiser.

The senator said he met and got to know Hutchinson while both were in Congress.

"When I really got to appreciate him, though, was when he became an undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," McCain said.

Hutchinson left Congress to join the Bush administration in 2001, going to the new Homeland Security Department after serving as director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Shortly after his appointment, Hutchinson, who was in charge of border security at Homeland Security, accompanied McCain in a tour of the Arizona border. McCain said more than half of the illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico takes place along the border.

On Indian casinos, McCain said he was opposed to operation of casinos that are not on an existing Indian reservation or at least adjacent to it.

Such a dividing line would not allow the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to build a proposed casino in Fort Smith on land held in trust by the tribe. The band petitioned the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for permission on March 27 and is awaiting a decision. The bureau is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

U.S. sovereignty is restricted on Indian reservations, with tribes being semi-autonomous.

McCain said since courts ruled that tribes have the right to have casinos and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 passed, gambling in tribal casinos has grown from $500 million to $20 billion a year and the number of applications by groups for tribal status has grown.

Hutchinson said he was opposed to casino gambling in Fort Smith.

Hutchinson faces Democratic Attorney General Mike Beebe in the Nov. 7 general election.

"Governor's elections are important because governors get things done. Washington is gridlocked," McCain said. "Arkansas, as you know, is something of a swing state. It's a weathervane. The way elections go here tell us what to expect over the rest of the country."

Jason Willett, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said it was ironic that McCain was in Arkansas campaigning for Hutchinson because of the senator's strong criticism of federal employees negotiating for private-sector lobbying jobs while still on the government payroll.

Willett has accused Hutchinson of negotiating for a job with a Washington lobbying firm before turning in his resignation at Homeland Security, a charge that Hutchinson's campaign has denied.
(Arkansas News)

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