The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McCain portrays immigration record differently in English and Spanish

There’s no doubt that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been a longtime advocate for revamping the nation’s immigration laws and border security system. But his newly-published Spanish-language campaign website selectively highlights just part of his legislative record — while his English-language site emphasizes other parts.

The Spanish language site, for instance, lauds him as a member of the Gang of Eight that sought comprehensive immigration reform, and a supporter of a pathway to citizenship for the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally — a group known as the “Dreamers.” The English-language site makes no mention of either and portrays the senator as a champion of tougher border security.

McCain’s campaign launched his new Spanish-language website on Tuesday, a week after he won a heated Republican primary in hopes of scoring a sixth term. “Unidos con McCain,” or “United with McCain” is a condensed version of his English-language site, which features far more information on McCain’s biography as well as news clippings and special emphasis on military, veterans issues and health-care.

On the issue of immigration, there are stark differences between the two sites. McCain’s English-language site highlights his stance on “Homeland Security and Immigration Reform,” while the Spanish-language site features McCain’s position on “Inmigracion.”

Lorna Romero, a McCain campaign spokeswoman, said the sites were “never intended to be identical.”

On both pages, the message begins in a similar fashion, with minor translation adjustments:

In English: “John has led the efforts in Washington to ensure that the U.S. obtains control of its southwest border and to reform our broken immigration system. It is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the Arizona-Mexico border is secure and that Arizonans have an immigration system that works in preventing terrorists and others wishing to do us harm from entering the country – while maintaining a robust immigration system that welcomes the best and brightest in the world.”

But from there, the two sites deviate considerably.

In English, McCain touts his work to reform the U.S. Border Patrol and to pass laws that “would address the crisis of unaccompanied children coming across Arizona’s border with Mexico.” But in Spanish, there’s no reference to border security or dealing with unaccompanied minors.

Instead, the Spanish site touts McCain as “the central figure who has brought together at the negotiating table Republicans and Democrats to work on immigration reform that is humane and sensible to the needs of the immigrant community. More recently, McCain led the efforts of the Group of Eight, which resulted in passage in the Senate of an historic immigration reform project. John McCain has always said that one of the most important parts of any legislative package of the broken immigration system should be to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who were brought as children by their parents, with no say in the matter.”

But in English, there’s no reference to McCain’s work on the Gang of Eight or his support for a pathway to citizenship for “dreamers,” the children of undocumented immigrants.

Here’s a screengrab of McCain’s English and Spanish-language sites:

Romero added in an email that McCain has, in both languages, “consistently championed the need for a secure border and immigration reform.”

She added that the new site “focuses closely on policy issues commonly raised by Spanish-language and bilingual Arizonans, based on the campaign’s internal research.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what that research contained.

Differences in translation between English- and Spanish-language campaign websites are nothing new, but are usually subtle to deal with differences in vernacular. With the growth of the Hispanic electorate nationwide, political consultants in both parties have encouraged political candidates to exhibit a more inclusive tone when discussing immigration, an issue of importance to Hispanics, but not usually the top concern. The economy, jobs, health-care and national security often rank ahead of immigration, but how a politician discusses the emotionally fraught issue is often seen as a key measure of Latino support.

In the case of McCain, it’s not so much differences in translation, but instead of emphasis. The contrasts could spark accusations from Democrats that McCain is trying to be all things to different groups of people on the issue of immigration, an especially sensitive topic in Arizona. Democrats are hoping to unseat McCain, a five-term incumbent, who faces a well-funded challenge this year from Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.). She has emphasized McCain’s support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — an historically unpopular figure among Hispanics — in hopes of driving up her support. McCain has vowed to stand by Trump despite the presidential candidate’s previously critical comments about the senator.

McCain has straddled the issue of immigration throughout most of his modern political life. After pushing for a comprehensive immigration reform bill during the latter years of George W. Bush’s administration, he distanced himself from the work during his 2010 reelection campaign and ran ads that called on the federal government to “Complete the dang fence” along the Mexican border.

There are other, more subtle differences between the two websites. A Spanish section called “Empleos y Economia” — jobs and the economy — mentions the endorsement of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but a similar section on the English site, dubbed “Government Spending, Taxes and the Economy,” instead calls out McCain’s high ratings from the American Conservative Union, Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers Union.

On the English site, the “Defense and National Security” section notes that during McCain’s chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the panel has heard from “witnesses like Henry Kissinger and America’s top military leaders.” On the Spanish site, there’s no mention of Kissinger.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.


John McCain is in the fight of his political life in the age of Donald Trump