(CNSNews.com) - If you're expecting a 2008 presidential showdown between New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, don't expect any sparks to fly on the subject of illegal immigration, according to an expert on the subject.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), advocating for a crackdown on illegal immigration, believes that Americans would have little reason to differentiate Clinton from McCain in a presidential contest, even though CIS believes the issue will be the most important one confronting the U.S.
On Thursday, the two senators updated the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute on what they see as the progress being achieved on immigration reform legislation. The Senate bill, as currently structured, would create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. In deference to conservatives, it also calls for the construction of a triple layer fence stretching 370 miles along the border between American cities like Yuma, Ariz., and Mexico.
But critics of the bill, like CIS Communications Director John Keeley, can't get past the legal residency provision, which he views as an amnesty program. He complained that political leaders from both major parties are weak on the issue of illegal immigration.
"If [Clinton and McCain] are the two nominees, then the American public would have no difference of a policy choice in the general election in 2008, that is to say a pro-amnesty Democratic nominee and a pro-amnesty Republican nominee," Keeley told Cybercast News Service.
"Their votes thus far on the amendments this week have been perfectly aligned, and I suspect that will continue to be so with the final bill that emerges before Memorial Day," Keeley said.
"I don't know if this will carry over to other issues, but frankly I don't care. There is only one issue that really matters right now. Yes, tax policy is important and health care is important and abortion is important, but you can only have a debate on these issues if you still have a country left, and that is really the debate we're having right now," he added.
McCain agreed that immigration reform is the most important issue facing the country right now, telling the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute that he views "this as one of the defining moments in American history that really does define what kind of nation we are."
"If there was ever such a thing as a noble cause, it is the one we are embarked on now," McCain said. "Anyone who is afraid that somehow our culture will be anything but enriched by fresh blood and culture, in my view, has a distorted view of history and has a pessimistic view of our future."
Clinton conceded that "our immigration system is broken. It has not served us well in recent years."
But she told the audience that the Senate is "working to make this outcome better, both for our country and for people who are willing to work hard and become part of America's future."
According to the latest Hotline/Diageo poll, 38 percent of registered Democrats support Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2008 while 14 percent support Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are tightly bunched with 25 and 23 percent support from registered Republicans, though many consider McCain to be the GOP frontrunner.
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