Transcript: Sen. John McCain’s remarks on the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) statement on the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal at a press conference on Jan. 28, 2013: 

…As Sen. Schumer mentioned, this is a first step in what will continue to be difficult but achievable. And I don’t think I have to remind anyone the last major attempt was over 6 years ago.

Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system, and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally.

And I would like to testify again the security situation along the southwest border is not perfect. There remains several areas, particularly in Arizona, where people’s homes are being invaded, where drug smugglers are crossing property every night, and these citizens deserve the same level of security that all of us standing here have.

But there’s no question there’s been a significant reduction in illegal crossings over the past 5 years. Apprehensions of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol have dropped 70% from 2005 to 2012. But their work is not yet complete.

Greater focus need to be paid to drug traffickers, criminals that cross the border. Arizona continues to be a major smuggling corridor and distribution hub for drug trafficking organizations.

To combat this, we need to continue to invest in high technology – UAVs, radar, and other proven surveillance systems that would give the Border Patrol the ability to detect and apprehend illegal entries into the United States. It’s achievable and can be completed within the next few years if we commit to it.

The next most important step is ensuring we don’t repeat the mistakes of 1986, where we gave amnesty for 3 million people, promised the border would be secure, and now, of course, we are dealing with 11 million people here illegally.

So that has to have increase in fines on employers that knowingly hire illegal workers. We have to have employment verification system that will end the hiring of future unauthorized immigrants. We need to shut off the magnet that attracts illegal workers.

We will put in place a legal worker program to provide a humane and effective system that allows immigrant workers to enter the country without seeking the aid of human traffickers and drug cartels.

Any immigration legislation that passes Congress must establish practical, legal channels for workers to enter the United States, whether they’re high-skill, low-skill, or agricultural workers so we can free up federal officials to focus on those individuals truly intending to do our nation harm through drug smuggling, people trafficking, and possibly terrorism.

Providing an expedited path to citizenship for Dreamers, developing a measurement to determine when the border is truly secure, reforming our future immigration system to better meet the needs of our employers, ensuring an entry-exit system to combat visa overstays, and creating program that make certain U.S. agriculture has the necessary workers to maintain America’s food supply are some of the issues we’ve committed to addressing and solving in a bipartisan manner.

And finally, we come to the most controversial piece of immigration reform and that’s how to deal with the approximately 11 million people living in the United States outside of legal status.

What’s going on now is unacceptable. In reality, what’s been created is a de-facto amnesty. We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawns, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.

I think everyone agrees that it’s not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let’s create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debts to society, and fulfill the necessary requirements to become law-abiding citizens of this country. This is consistent with our country’s tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

I’d like to read Sen. Lindsey Graham’s brief statement.

He says, “I hope the third time is the charm. I’ve enjoyed working with my Senate colleagues in drafting these principles and believe we’re off to a good start. The bipartisan immigration principles represent a real breakthrough on substance and I hope they’ll be seen as a breakthrough in forming a political coalition to finally solve our immigration problems. The coalition must also include the President and the House of Representatives. My hope is the immigration reform bill will start in the Senate and receive an overwhelming bipartisan vote. We’re a long way from having legislative language but I do believe 2013 represents the best chance to pass immigration reform in many years. The time is right and the way forward, while difficult, is being better defined by the day. And with a reasonable amount of political give and take, we will be successful. However, if for some reason we fail in our efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, I do believe it will be many years before anyone is willing to try and solve this problem. We should start this new attempt hopefully with full understanding of how difficult the task is.”

And I’ll finally say again, in the last couple of days we have been able to prevent what is called a “nuclear” option in the United States Senate. A lot of people don’t appreciate how important it was for us to get that done. Chuck Schumer and I and others and Dick Durbin were involved in a bipartisan effort to avert that. Thanks to the cooperation of our two leaders, we were able to do that.

There is a desire for bipartisanship here in this body. I think we can show the country and the world that we are capable of tackling this issue – a moving and terrible issue that has to be resolved in a bipartisan basis and I believe the majority of the American people supports such an effort.


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