PHOENIX - There's little doubt about the economic benefits of immigration reform for both the United States and Arizona, U.S. Sen. John McCain told business leaders Wednesday.
Immigration reform would add $616 million to Arizona's economic output and create more than 8,000 jobs by 2014, McCain said. It would also boost the Arizona economy by $5.5 billion by 2045 and add $2.5 billion to household incomes by 2020, he added.
"The issue's not going away because the people aren't going away," McCain said at the Greater Phoenix Economic Council's round table.
"We're not going to round those 11 million people up and deport them," he said.
McCain, a Republican, is part of bipartisan group of eight senators, along with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., pursuing legislation that would create a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. The proposed legislation would also increase border security, which would be funded by fees from the citizenship process.
More than 70 percent of Arizonans, according to polling data, approve of comprehensive immigration reform as the path to citizenship, McCain said.
"The support is there, and it's strong," he said.
However, the remaining 30 percent are very dedicated in their opposition to immigration reform, McCain said.
Jim Lundy, CEO of Alliance Bank, said opponents should understand that the public is already absorbing the cost of those in the U.S. illegally because they visit emergency rooms when sick and send their children to public schools.
"The reality is it will be a net economic gain for the country and for the state," Lundy said
People who came to this country didn't do so to collect benefits, Lundy said.
"They came here to work, and they do work," he said.
McCain said it is unacceptable to have 11 million people living in the shadows when they could be paying into programs likes Social Security.
In 1955, there were 16 workers for every retiree, McCain said. Currently, there are three workers for every retiree, and the ratio will fall to two workers for every retiree in 10 years, he noted.
"We all know that the system presently is unsustainable, both Social Security and Medicare," McCain said.
Although members of GPEC seemed to unanimously support McCain's view on immigration reform, one attendee offered a critique.
Andy Warren, president of Maracay Homes, took issue with the homebuilding industry facing a cap of 15,000 people as part of the guest worker provision while the agriculture and manufacturing industries don't face a cap.
"We don't claim that our bill is perfect," McCain said earlier at the round table. "We want to negotiate and come to further compromise if necessary."