On August 4 of last year, a day after Donald Trump announced his support for the immigration reform plan of Republican senators David Perdue (Georgia) and Tom Cotton (Arkanzas), a bill that would have placed 11 million undocumented immigrants on the verge of deportation, Senator John McCain initiated bipartisan talks behind closed doors to challenge the president and protect the immigrant community.
The "rebel" senator said, from his ranch in Arizona, that when he returned to the Capitol in September, he would try to revive an immigration reform proposal that the Senate approved on June 27, 2013 which Republicans had allowed to die in the House of Representatives.
McCain was not only frank with the immigrant community, but also with Trump. He reminded the millions of undocumented immigrants that there was a possibility of regularizing their status if they had been in the country for sufficient time, lacked a criminal record, paid taxes and had families settled in the United States.
The plan supported by Trump, on the other hand, proposed - among other thing points - to build a wall on the border with Mexico, build more prisons to lock up undocumented immigrants, increase workplace raids, accelerate deportations, limit family reunification, reduce legal immigration by 50% in 10 years, eliminate the visa lottery and restrict asylum.
McCain's first call was to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (New York), to express his disapproval of the plan backed by the president and ask him to fight together to revive the June 2013 initiative. He communicated this through a Facebook Live broadcast by The Arizona Republic newspaper.
Schumer is the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate and both were part of the so-called 'Gang of Eight' who drafted the Senate Bill S.744 approved on June 27, 2017.
In addition to Schumer, the group was made up of Democrats Bob Menéndez (New Jersey), Richard Durbin (Illinois) and Michael Bennet (Colorado), and Republicans Marco Rubio (Florida), Jeff Flake (Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).
The plan McCain tried to revive included a path of legalization for millions of undocumented immigrants, who after 10 years as provisional residents, could gain permanent resident ('green card') status and three years later apply for citizenship.
The 2005 reform
McCain's battles over immigration reform are not limited to 2013. In May 2005, during the second government of the also Republican George W. Bush, the Arizona senator was one of the promoters of another plan that aimed to get millions of undocumented people out of the shadows.
On one occasion, he told ABC that it was not an amnesty, but "a practical way to try to get 10 or 11 million people living in this country in the shadows, who are exploited and mistreated, and that are not eligible for the protection of our laws. "
The plan in question, which had the approval of his friend, the Democratic Senator Edward Kenney (Massachusetts), imposed a $2,000 fine on each undocumented immigrant for their illegal stay in the country. Then they would enter a temporary work program for up to six years.
But conservative Republicans did not support him and accused both legislators (McCain and Kennedy) of proposing an amnesty, something unacceptable for most Republicans who see it as synonymous with a free pass for violating the law .
It should be noted that in 1996 Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which carried 10 years ban on re-entry for undocumented immigrants who had stayed in the United States longer that 365 days.
McCain also said on that occasion "it would be impossible to identify and round up all 10 to 11 million of the current undocumented, and if we did, it would ground our nation's economy to a halt."
Twelve years later his words became a bitter reality under the Trump administration.
They left the same day
McCain and Kennedy waged a series of battles in favor of rights for the most vulnerable. "The two of them fought together so that our community would have medical care and an immigration reform," Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, told Univision. "Much of what we now have we owe to both," he added.
Clearing his throat, Monterroso added after a pause: "A champion for the rights of immigrants has died ... I worked with McCain and Kennedy, and you know what, they have a lot in common."
"They fought together, they left a great void, they proved to be full-fledged politicians, with principles and values, and both died on the same day, August 25, but nine years apart," he said.
"Senator McCain not only fought in the war, but he also fought battles here, in our country, for our community, in good times and bad. And he did it with integrity. There are no words to describe our feeling for his departure."
In Los Angeles, California, the tributes have poured in to local media. "He was a Republican not as radical as Trump and the others who support him," says Francisco Moreno, executive director of the Federation of Mexican Confederations. "He had the appreciation of the immigrant community because he was a man who always stood in his line, defending what he believed was fair," he added.
"We're going to miss him," Moreno added. "Senator McCain was one of the few Republicans we had in Congress. He could have made a change, he tried to do it again last year, but unfortunately he died now, he leaves us a huge legacy, especially staying on the side of the Justice."
When McCain declared war on Trump in August last year, in defense of the 2013 immigration reform plan, he was in Arizona with his family fighting an aggressive brain tumor.
Senator Menéndez (Democrat for New Jersey) who, along with McCain, joined the Group of Eight, wrote in his Twitter account: "Tonight we lost an American hero who put patriotism over partisanship, & whose legacy in the US Senate will last generations. From immigration reform to foreign policy, it was a privilege to work with John McCain. Rest in peace, my friend. The United States is a better place thanks to you."