The Star editorial board met with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain on April 1. Excerpts of the conversation were published April 11 in the Star print edition, and we've collected segments, organized by topic, of the wide-ranging interview online:
STAR: So we know you don't favor amnesty. And you've said for more than two years that the border must be secure before comprehensive reform can be debated. And you also criticized Congress for failing to secure the border. So we wonder what -
McCAIN: And the administration.
STAR: And the administration. What exactly have you done in Congress to achieve that end?
McCAIN: Well, as a new member of the Homeland Security committee, last April we had a hearing in Phoenix with the various law enforcement agencies and Border Patrol, et cetera, specifically on the issue of border violence. Obviously I visited the border on several occasions, and at that time, it became clear that we didn't have sufficient forces on the border. And it was at that time that I said we needed to send the guard down to the border.
I've had the UAV issue to get them stationed at Fort Huachuca. Have had numerous conversations with the secretary of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security on this issue and was very much in favor and strongly supported the construction of a virtual fence. And as you know, that whole thing has collapsed at a huge cost to the taxpayers. And we are having a hearing the week after next when we get back with the Homeland Security committee. Why that failed and what the situation is and what is needed to try to provide the proper security.
My view is you need a physical fence. But we all know that unless physical fences are surveilled, and then people just punch holes in them. And so I saw in Iraq on my visit there that their ability to serveil areas is that we have the technology now.
And why they failed so badly is still an outrage at this point.
And just one other small point because I know that you don't want me to give real long answers. But for a long time in Yuma at the Barry Goldwater (bombing) range, they had a continuous incursion of illegals which caused them to cancel missions. Obviously you are not going to be dropping weapons when human beings are on the range. So they went out themselves and got very inexpensive but very effective surveillance equipment. And now there is hardly any incursions of illegals. Not a vast Boeing contract of billions of dollars, but just some really basic surveillance equipment, and it's worked extremely well.
And I did bring that up with Janet (Napolitano). And I'm not trying to beat up on the secretary of Homeland Security, she's working hard, she's got a lot of things to do. I did bring it up with her, and she agreed that they are going to now try to buy some very inexpensive equipment at least in the interim to put on the border.
So what have I done? Not enough.
STAR: In the past, and I know you don't support amnesty, you have supported a path to citizenship that in your own bill with Sen. (Ted) Kennedy and later with Sen. (Jon) Kyl's bill. Will you support such a path again after the border is secured?
McCAIN: After the border is secured, then obviously we have to address the issue of the 12 million people who are still in this country illegally. I don't know what ... American public opinion will take. But one of the key elements, as was in our previous legislation, is a legal temporary worker program.
Now, it's just a fact that the unions have long opposed a legal temporary worker program. And I respect their reasons for it, I just don't agree with it.
So the president has not come forward with a proposal for immigration reform. (Sens. Charles) Schumer and (Lindsey) Graham have talked about parameters for them, and other people have. But one of the reasons why he hasn't is because the unions don't want a legal temporary worker program.
And they know that none of us will support any reform unless it has a temporary worker program in it. And by the way, I'd be glad to go into the details on how it is very workable to make sure that people don't stay here.
If I were president, I would have come forward with a proposal. And people keep coming to me and saying what's your proposal? I say look, I lost the election. Hello. You know, I'm reminded of that every day.
STAR: But you represent a border state that's affected by inaction.
McCAIN: Yes. Yes. I do. But so does the senator from New Mexico and the senators from California and all the border states all along. But it seems to me that the proposal should come, it's the obligation of the president of the United States to come forward with what he thinks is a proposal and then maybe we can all work together and get it resolved.
And but I just heard was that Lindsey Graham said that he was not going to work on immigration reform because of the reconciliation. He just said that he's not going to. And you know, they laid out a set of principles, Schumer and Lindsey did. And I say with great respect that, you know, it's easy to lay out principles. But then when you get into the details, it's exactly how you implement those principles, that's when it gets pretty complicated on all these issues.
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STAR: Can we go back to your border discussion? Why do you think that putting what will likely be a relatively small number of National Guard troops on the border would have any significant effect on border security?
McCAIN: Well first of all, I'm not sure that it should be small. But second of all, when those guys see people in uniform it has an affect on them, because where they come from when they see people in uniform it has an affect on them. And also I think that everybody, at least it's our view, that there isn't sufficient force down there. Those people are trained, equipped; they are disciplined. They are very adequate for the job.
STAR: You're talking about the National Guard? I'm not sure if you're talking about the smugglers or the National Guard.
McCAIN: Guard. Guard. Guard. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Guard.
STAR: I think that there are enough people, it's not a question of people. It's a question of technology. For example, simple things like having radios that can communicate with each other across the various sectors from Douglas to Lordsburg. Apparently they have digital and analog radios and they can't communicate. So that affects their area. Or they said we just need a lot of additional mobile radar stations that are staffed and that there are people around. So what about that kind of tweaking as opposed to ...
McCAIN: I think we need all of the above. And the interoperability thing is inexcusable. I mean, that one is just totally inexcusable if that's the situation today. And I also think that the UAVs can be very effective when you have that kind of capability as well.
STAR: I'm sorry. The UAVs would be under a command of the military or the Border Patrol?
McCAIN: No. This would be under the command of the Border Patrol or Homeland Security.
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STAR: J.D. Hayworth says you had last-minute conversion on border security, partly from the (Robert) Krentz murder. I know you have come back with a lot of documentation and stuff that you say isn't a last-minute conversion.
What do you think of this whole discussion exploding now in essence from this murder of a rancher by apparently probably somebody who crossed the border illlegally?
McCAIN: I had a town hall meeting last night in Sierra Vista. And emotions were really high, and they are high everywhere. Some people who are on the strong side of the issues say that we should be calm, we should remain calm. Some of the things that were said at the town hall meeting last night were explosive, with people talking about we have got to be armed. You've heard it all. The emotions are extremely high.
STAR: Do you think people are taking advantage of the tragedy?
McCAIN: I don't know. I don't like to accuse people of that because it is such a tragic situation. But it's also kind of a culmination.
There were people at the town hall meeting last night who came to me that live on the border and who said "Look, outside of my back door I see these people who are here illegally. And they trash my yard, they are at the bus stop when I get my kids off to school." It's not a single isolated instance. I think it's sort of like the fuse that lit the powder keg, I mean the spark that did that.
At least 20 people came up to me and told me personal stories about living down there and their difficulties with the illegal immigration across their property and with their families, et cetera.
STAR: Are those different stories then you've been hearing for the last 10 years?
McCAIN: No, except the passion was much more intense, the anger was more intense. As I said, I think this kind of galvanized the opinion or increased the anger level.
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Could I just mention, on the border issue, hopefully we will be hearing the week after next, we hopefully will get some better indication what the administration is going to do or not to or whatever their plans are.
I do know that Janet Napolitano takes this death very seriously, she is very concerned about it. They did say they were going to have like a mini surge of sending customs and border people down here. So she is not oblivious to the impact of this murder. And we have a very good relationship. Talk about partisanship, we have an excellent relationship. And I think she is doing a good job.