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Public Statements

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, over the last 3 years, I have spent a lot of time traveling around the State of Arizona and meeting with my constituents. Many of these trips took me to the southern part of my State where I sat down with ranchers, farmers, small business owners, local officials, and law enforcement officers in the border region and discussed the issues that were important to them and their neighbors. Everywhere I went people told me of their fear and concern over the lack of security along Arizona's border with Mexico.

Due to the drug war in Mexico, the situation along the southern border has proven to be a very serious and real threat to the people living in the region. The violence that continues to plague our southern neighbor by well-armed, well-financed, and very determined drug cartels poses a threat to our national security. Despite the increased efforts of President Calderon to stamp out these bloodthirsty and vicious drug cartels, violence has increased dramatically, claiming over 31,000 lives in Mexico since 2006. The murderers carrying out these crimes are as violent and dangerous as any in the world.

Two weeks ago, the Mexican military arrested a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who has been working as a hit man for the Cartel of the South Pacific. This child assassin came to the attention of the public after YouTube videos surfaced of him decapitating kidnapping victims. When questioned by Mexican authorities, he is quoted as saying, ``When we don't find the rivals, we kill innocent people, maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver.'' Truly disturbing behavior.

This week there was another tragic murder on the U.S. side of the border that took the life of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his fellow Border Patrol agents. Agent Terry was killed outside of Rio Rico, AZ, during a shootout with a Mexican ``rip-crew'' that was attempting to rip off a rival drug gang. These incidents are becoming all too common and are a byproduct of the lack of resources and personnel along our border.

Incidents like these are why the residents of southern Arizona tell me that they feel that they live in a lawless, forgotten region of the country where they live in constant fear in their own homes. They are begging for our help. It is time--in fact, the time is long overdue--for the Federal Government to fulfill its responsibility to secure our international borders and ensure the safety and well-being of the families and citizens living within those borders.

All of that being said, I still believe that the overwhelming majority of men and women trying to enter our country illegally are looking for nothing more than the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their families. Fixing our immigration system, with reforms like the DREAM Act and the implementation of a workable and labor-market-driven guest worker program would benefit our Nation's economy and our society. Such reform would also provide immigrants desperate to come to the United States to look for work a safe alternative to illegal human smugglers or ``coyotes'' that have cost so many people their lives and dignity. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 253 people died attempting to cross the Arizona border between September 2009 and October 2010.

With respect to the DREAM Act, I have great sympathy for the students who would benefit from passage of this legislation. I have met personally with many of the students advocating for the bill, and many of their stories are heart-wrenching. Through no fault of their own, they are now caught in legal limbo that leaves them unable to obtain employment in the United States and unequipped to return to the country of their birth, often a place foreign and completely unknown to them. I truly sympathize with the plight of these men and women.

But I also feel for the men and women of Arizona who live along an unsecure border and have been promised for decades that the Federal Government will do its job and stop the illegal migration and drug trafficking that run through their towns, neighborhoods, and backyards.

I pity the farmers in my State who are unable to harvest their crops because they cannot navigate the burdens of the H-2A agriculture guest worker program. Most of all, however, I sympathize with the families who live in constant fear in their homes and neighborhoods, especially those who have been victimized by criminal elements crossing the border illegally. Consequently, I cannot in good faith put the priorities of these students, as tragic as their situation is, ahead of my constituents and the American people are who are demanding that the Federal Government fulfill its constitutional duty to secure our borders. Once we fulfill this commitment, we can then address the other issues surrounding and plaguing our broken immigration system.

On a practical note, I also believe that any casual, impartial observer will recognize that our inability to secure the border has made immigration reform politically

unattainable as the American public insists we stop the flow of illegal entries before considering any changes to our immigration policies. In 1986, we passed what was truly an amnesty and we failed to secure our borders either before or after that bill's passage. Consequently, we now have an estimated 12 to 20 million people living in our country illegally, and the American people have said ``enough is enough.'' They are telling us to ``secure our borders first.''

We have already made steps in the right direction. In fact, we have shown our ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to secure the border during this Congress. Most recently, in August, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to deploy $600 million in personnel and new assets to the southwest border. We must continue this important work together.

While it is true that there are more assets and resources at the border now than ever before, we need a complete and comprehensive plan that incorporates the ideas of the State and local law enforcement, elected officials, and the border Governors. In the coming months, I will begin a deliberative and comprehensive process of discovering what is truly needed to secure our borders and give the Governors of our Southern States the peace of mind and assurance they need to certify that their borders are secure.

These elected officials are on the front line and know best what assets, personnel, and technology are needed. Once the border State Governors certify their State border has been secured and the Federal Government can demonstrate such to the American people--only then should we and can we begin working on comprehensive immigration reform.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan matter to address all of these issues that are important to the American people and the people of Arizona.


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, how much time is remaining on both sides?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Arizona has 10 minutes. The Senator from Illinois has 10 minutes 30 seconds.

Mr. McCAIN. Well, Mr. President, I would ask, is it true the parliamentary situation as it exists right now is that we will be voting on cloture on both what is known as don't ask, don't tell and the DREAM Act?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator is correct. There will be cloture votes on both of those House messages.

Mr. McCAIN. Meanwhile, on the Executive Calendar, we have the START treaty?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. That is correct.

Mr. McCAIN. And there are no amendments that are in order on either the DREAM Act or don't ask, don't tell, no amendments are in order?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. My understanding is there is no place for an amendment on either measure at this time.

Mr. McCAIN. So here we are, about 6 weeks after an election that repudiated the agenda of the other side, and we are jamming, or trying to jam, major issues through the Senate of the United States because they know they cannot get it done beginning next January 5. They cannot do it next January 5. The American people have spoken, and they are acting in direct repudiation of the message of the American people. That is why they are jamming this through.

My friends, there is a lot of talk about compromise. There is a lot of talk about working together. You think what this ``bizarro'' world that the majority leader has been carrying us in, of cloture votes on this, votes on various issues that are on the political agenda of the other side--to somehow think that beginning next January 5 we will all love one another and kumbaya? I do not think so. I do not think so.

Unfortunately, the majority is using the lameduck session to push an agenda, when the fact is lameduck sessions are supposed to be to finish up the work of Congress so the new Congress can act on the issues of the day.

The American people have spoken in what the President of the United States described as a ``shellacking.'' Everything we are doing is completely ignoring that message. Maybe it will require another election.

So, for example, I filed two amendments I believe are relevant to this bill, important to this major change. Those will not be in order.

I have always and consistently stated that I would listen to and fully consider the advice of our military and our military leadership. On December 3, the Committee on Armed Services heard from the Chiefs of our four military services--the Chiefs of our four military services.

General Amos said:

Based on what I know about the very tough fight in Afghanistan, the almost singular focus of our combat forces as they train up and deploy into theater, the necessary tightly woven culture of those combat forces that we are asking so much of at this time, and, finally, the direct feedback from the survey, my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time.

Then he talks about:

Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines' lives.

Cost marines' lives.

[M]arines came back--

After serving in combat--

and they said, ``Look, anything that's going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion.'' I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I'll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda ..... Marines are up there with no legs, none. We've got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs.

General Casey said:

I believe that the implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the near term will, one, add another level of stress to an already stretched force; two, be more difficult in our combat arms units; and, three, be more difficult for the Army than the report suggests.

General Schwartz basically said the same thing.

I have heard from thousands--thousands--of Active-Duty and retired military personnel. I have heard from them, and they are saying: Senator McCain, it isn't broke, and don't fix it.

So all of this talk about how it is a civil rights issue and equality, the fact is, the military has the highest recruiting and highest retention than at any other time in its history. So I understand the other side's argument as to their social, political agenda. But to somehow allege that it has harmed our military is not justified by the facts.

I hope everybody recognizes this debate is not about the broader social issues that are being discussed in our society, but what is in the best interest of our national security and our military during the time of war.

Now, I am aware this vote will probably pass today in a lameduck session, and there will be high-fives all over the liberal bastions of America. We will see the talk shows tomorrow--a bunch of people talking about how great it is. Most of them never have served in the military or maybe even not even known someone in the military.

And, you know, we will repeal it; all over America there will be gold stars put up in windows in the rural towns and communities all over America that do not partake in the elite schools that bar military recruiters from campus, that do not partake in the salons of Georgetown and the other liberal bastions around the country. But there will be additional sacrifice. I hear that from master sergeants. I hear that from junior officers. I hear that from leaders.

So I am confident that with this repeal our military--the best in the world--will salute and do the best they can to carry out the orders of the Commander in Chief. That is the nature--that is the nature--of our military, and I could not be more proud of them in the performance that they have given us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and before that other conflicts. They will do what is asked of them.

But do not think it will not be at great cost. I will never forget being, just a few weeks ago, at Kandahar. An Army sergeant major, with five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a forward operating base, said: Senator McCain, we live together. We sleep together. We eat together. Unit cohesion is what makes us succeed.

So I hope when we pass this legislation we will understand we are doing great damage, and we could possibly and probably--as the Commandant of the Marine Corps said; and I have been told by literally thousands of members of the military--harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.

Mr. President, I yield the remainder of my time.


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