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By Adriel Bettelheim July 17, 2008

SUMMARY: It's an issue the two candidates appear to agree on for the most part, but Obama and McCain have traded charges that the other sold out.

Immigration is an issue on which Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama appear to share common ground. Both have favored comprehensive plans to rewrite the nation's immigration laws that strengthen border enforcement and create temporary worker programs offering the promise of citizenship to illegal immigrants.

But because such plans have repeatedly foundered in the sharply divided Congress, immigration is providing a convenient prism for the presumptive candidates to portray one another as cowards willing to sell out principles for political gain.

McCain and Obama have been trading charges in recent weeks as they vie for the substantial and critical Hispanic vote. In separate appearances before Latino groups this month, each senator derided his opponent as all too eager to betray millions of undocumented aliens, most of whom come from Central and South America.

McCain fired the latest salvo in a July 14 appearance before the National Council of La Raza convention in San Diego, charging Obama helped scuttle a bipartisan immigration bill last year by offering and supporting deal-breaking amendments that were intended to kill the legislation.

"I (helped draft the compromise bill) not just because I believe it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans," McCain said, adding Obama "voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the (immigration overhaul) legislation."

McCain was referring to a series of votes the Senate took in early June 2007 at a sensitive time in the immigration debate, when a fragile compromise bill that the Bush administration supported was dividing the Republican caucus. Democrats were unwilling to help give the embattled president a legislative victory, and many were eager to accommodate the wishes of organized labor, which opposed a proposed guest worker program.

Obama unsuccessfully offered one amendment to tweak the way the program would award green cards and supported another amendment by Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to "sunset," or terminate a proposed guest worker program after five years. The Senate's acceptance of the Dorgan amendment on a 49-48 vote on June 7 effectively doomed the legislation.

It's a fact that Obama's actions came at a critical point in the immigration debate and threatened the compromise plan.

And he supported Dorgan's amendment, which was considered the poison pill McCain describes.

But it's not accurate to describe Obama's amendment in the same terms. For this reason, we deem McCain's statement Half True.

Obama has also lobbed bombs McCain's way, using a July 8 appearance before the United Latin American Citizens in Washington to recall remarks McCain made in a Jan. 30 debate that essentially disavowed an immigration plan McCain championed in 2006. Obama said the remarks were evidence McCain was ready to abandon his maverick streak and a willingness to buck his party in order to capture the GOP nomination.

"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," Obama said.

McCain — who appeared in the Republican candidates' debate with Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — responded in the negative to a question about whether he would still vote for his original plan, which combined border security with a so-called "path to citizenship," explaining that public opinion favored border enforcement over citizenship provisions. He added that the plan would never be revived in that form.

"I would not, because we know what the situation is today," McCain said. "The people want the border secured first. And so to say that that would come to the floor of the Senate — it won't. We went through various amendments which prevented that ever — that proposal."

Obama implies that McCain was standing against the wishes of the entire GOP before bending in the other direction, but neglects to mention that both immigration plans were backed by the Bush administration and some in the Senate Republican leadership.

Still, Obama correctly points out that McCain said he would no longer vote for an immigration measure he once championed. For this reason, we deem Obama's statement Mostly True.

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