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Address by Senator John McCain to the Southwestern Border Sheriffs Coalition


Location: Unknown

"Thank for your invitation to be here today. It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to spend this time with you. As the men and women responsible for protecting your communities, you know better than anyone the challenges facing your own neighborhoods and our country from illegal human and drug trafficking.

"Ten years ago, we could not have anticipated the headlines that routinely appear in newspapers today throughout the country detailing the danger along our southwest border. For example, the September 2nd headline in The Arizona Republic read, "Mexico: Soldiers kill 25 in shootout near border;' the January 5th headline in The Los Angeles Times declared, "Mexico's Drug Violence Respects No Borders;' and the May 31st headline in The Dallas Morning News warned residents, "Incidents on Texas Border Lake Raise Fear of Spillover Violence From Mexico.' While our border with Mexico has always seen some level of illegal immigration, it has not seen the powerful threat of deadly violence that exists today due to Mexico's ongoing war against its drug cartels.

"The extremely deadly violence in Mexico has fundamentally changed your jobs. You are now asked not only to serve eviction notices, assist courthouses with the transport of prisoners and execute and service process of civil litigation matter; but also to serve as our nation's first line of defense in defending our homeland. The job of sheriff or sheriff's deputy is more difficult, more challenging and more dangerous than ever before. And unfortunately, this is a direct result of the Federal Government's inability or unwillingness to secure our borders.

"I am sure that all of you are aware of the challenges that Arizona has been facing -- many or your communities face the same problems -- and understand why many people in southern Arizona feel like they are living in a no-man's-land, abandoned by the Federal government and this Administration. It does not help that David Aguilar, deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, was quoted in The Arizona Republic as saying that the border is not a fence or a line in the dirt, but a broad and complex corridor. "It is,' Aguilar explained, "a third country that joins Mexico and the United States.'

"It is comments like this that make your job more difficult. In fact, some administration officials have claimed that, "the border itself is more under control than it has ever been.' A truly amazing statement when you consider that in the Tucson sector 700 to 1,200 illegal border crossers are apprehended each day, and over 241,000 illegal border crossers were apprehended last year. According to estimates from border patrol agents, only one-third to one-fifth of illegal border crossers are actually apprehended. I don't think anyone living in the region would consider this to be a border that is "under control.'

"Americans living anywhere, but especially along the border, must feel safe and secure in their homes and on their property. They cannot while close to a million illegal border crossers, many with criminal records, enter through the southwest each year.

"With an increase in illegal border crossers and an increase in Mexican drug cartel violence, we have seen record amounts of drugs crossing the border. Ninety percent of the cocaine seized in the United State comes through Mexico and much of it is smuggled though Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California to points throughout the country. Arizona leads the southwest border states in the seizure of marijuana with nearly 1.7 million pounds of marijuana being seized last year in Arizona (with 1.2 million of those pounds being seized in the Tucson sector), a 43% increase from 2008. No other border sector has ever reached the one million pound threshold. This makes Sheriff Dever's job more difficult every year.

"But, these drug seizures do not affect only southwest border law enforcement. The Mexican drug cartels operate in more than 230 U.S. cities and every region of our country. Drug smuggling through our borders is reported to generate as much as $38 billion in revenues for the Mexican drug cartels.

"However, it is not only drug smuggling that is happening on the border. I am sure all of you in this room have witnessed firsthand the dire humanitarian issue of human smuggling. The conditions migrants face while attempting to enter the U.S. illegally are often subhuman and always fraught with danger. The most recent example of the inhumanity these migrants face is the brutal murder of 72 people, including 14 women that were found in a mass grave in northern Mexico. These individuals were murdered without cause by the cartels they paid to smuggle them into the country. It is assumed the Zetas, Mexico's most violent cartels are responsible for this atrocity.

"According to the Associated Press, there may be hundreds or thousands of migrants killed by organized crime gangs; bodies brutally disposed of or buried in unmarked pauper graves. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said there were witness accounts of 198 mass kidnappings involving 9,758 migrants in a six month-period in 2009.

"In addition to the brutality at the hands of the human smugglers, the harsh climate and terrain take the lives of hundreds of migrants each year. In fact, this year has the potential to break the record for the number of heat related deaths for migrants illegally crossing the Arizona desert. So far in 2010, 170 bodies have been found by authorities in Pima County. I urge humanitarian groups to support us in our efforts to secure the border and persuade these migrants to avoid the dangers of entering the U.S. illegally.

"In this effort, Senator Kyl and I have been working to pass our 10-point border security plan. All ten points of the plan are crucial to achieving a secure border, including the ability to provide interoperable communications between Federal, state and local law enforcement on the border, and ensuring that Arizona and other border states are fully reimbursed by the Federal government for the costs of incarcerating criminal aliens.

"We have been successful in getting many items in the 10-point plan signed into law. A number of them were included in the recently passed $600 million spending bill to fund additional border security programs. While far from perfect, this bill is a step in the right direction. It will send 1,200 new Border Patrol Agents and 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers to the border; procure two new Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs); establish two forward operating bases; and provide millions of dollars for vital radio communications interoperability. The bill also provides hundreds of millions of dollars for additional judges and prosecutors to ensure our Federal government prosecutes illegal border crossers. All of these items are key components in the McCain-Kyl 10-Point Border Security Action Plan and legislation.

"However, there are key elements still in need of funding that are critical to our border security. The legislation that recently passed Congress does not include nearly enough funding for Operation Streamline to assist in prosecuting illegal border crossers, or Operation Stonegarden, a grant program that funds many of the activities sheriffs are asked to take on to help defend our homeland. These programs are crucial to ensuring our courts and state and local law enforcement have the resources necessary to support efforts to protect people in the border region and beyond.

"The legislation also did not provide the funding necessary to expand the capacity of the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), which, as you well know, provides information about immigration status to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. I can promise you that when Congress returns I will continue to fight to provide the funding and resources necessary to complete the remainder of Senator Kyl's and my 10-point border security plan.

"Before I conclude, I would be remiss if I didn't mention two issues important to sheriffs nationwide, and therefore important to me. The first is ensuring that valuable wireless spectrum Congress set aside for public safety is not auctioned to private companies. Due to the encouragement of the National Sheriffs Association, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and International Association of Fire Chiefs, I introduced legislation, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, to ensure that this valuable wireless spectrum is handed over to first responders. It should not be managed by Washington, but instead provided to state and local law enforcement to help develop a local and national interoperable state-of-the-art communications network for all law enforcement officers. It is deplorable that as we come upon the nine year anniversary of the events of 9-11, our country is no further along in developing a interoperation communications network for first responders.

"Lastly, there are many in Washington that want to tell you how to manage your office and your employees by enacting the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2009. I cannot support such legislation that provides collective bargaining rights to first responders who must be ready and able to serve at all times. I do support these first responders in negotiating with their supervisors fair working conditions, and I hope each of you provide such, but to have Washington mandate collective bargaining just goes too far.

"Again, thank you for the privilege of joining you today and most importantly, thank you for all you do to keep Americans safe and secure each and every day. I have enjoyed working with the sheriffs in Arizona and across the country during my time in Congress and pledge to continue to work with you each day to support your efforts to secure our homeland and serve our country."

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