Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
September 21, 2010  
Contact:
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer Speaks on Senate Floor Following Senate Vote on Defense Authorization Bill  

Opponents Blocked Efforts to Repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy, Raise Military Pay, Pass the DREAM Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) made the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon after Senate Democrats’ efforts to move forward on the Defense Authorization bill were blocked. Senate Democrats were seeking to raise military pay, help protect our troops in harm’s way, care for wounded service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and pass the DREAM Act, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who agree to go to college or serve in the military. The following are excerpts of the Senator’s remarks:

I rise to express my deep disappointment that we were unable to proceed to the Defense Authorization bill. … It’s perplexing to me, because this is some of what’s in the bill:

A defense health program to care for our military personnel and their families, including our wounded warriors. We know that these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken quite a toll on our military men and women, both in seen injuries and unseen injuries, injuries to the brain. We know that some incredible work is going on. I visited some of the research universities that are finding better ways to treat our wounded warriors. They’re finding better ways to treat terrible wounds that result in horrible burns to our brave men and women. And now is the time to put those new and better treatments into place and there’s a filibuster and we can’t get to the bill.

We know there’s a military pay raise in this bill for our service members. Those voting “no” to proceed to this are stopping that. This bill authorizes Tricare coverage for eligible dependents up to age 26. In other words, just as we did in the health reform act, in this bill we’re saying if you’re in the military and you have a child, you can keep them on your coverage until they’re 26.

It provides $3.4 billion for mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles or MRAPS, which have proven highly successful in protecting our troops from improvised explosive devices.

And it requires companies to certify for all DoD contracts valued over a million dollars that they are not engaged in any sanctionable activity under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996. So we would make sure that the DoD, Department of Defense, is not involved in giving contracts to companies who are trading with Iran, and this is so important as we seek to sanction Iran for her reckless activity in moving towards a nuclear weapon.

Well, in that bill that the Republicans blocked also is a repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And the way it’s written in the bill that says we repeal it, but it won’t be actually repealed until there’s a certification from the Department of Defense that it won’t have an adverse consequence on our troops. Some said, “Oh, this is just ignoring the Department of Defense, ignoring the Secretary of Defense.” Not at all. The way Chairman Levin put it together, it definitely had a check on it, so I don’t understand a lot of my colleagues on the other side claiming that it was just a quick repeal with no check and balance from the Secretary of Defense.

I would say again, it was clear in that there must be, as we repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a certification from the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there will be no significant impact on, quote: “Military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

You know, I think it’s important to note what countries allow gays and lesbians to serve. How about 22 of our allies who are fighting with our men and women? Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Sweden. In addition, Israel and South Africa also do not discriminate against gays and lesbians.

So I don’t know who we wind up with but it looks to me like the only countries I can find that still discriminate against gays and lesbians in the service are Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, North Korea, and Turkey. And so for us to stand with Iran, for us to stand with Cuba, for us to stand with North Korea, Pakistan and Turkey over Australia, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Germany, etc, it just doesn’t make sense.

The point is, because we’re part of this coalition of 22 other nations, our fighting men and women are already fighting side by side with those who may well be gays and lesbians.

A majority of Americans think it is the right thing to do to allow our qualified young men and women to serve, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to a CNN poll conducted in May, 78 percent of Americans said they support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Seventy-eight percent of Americans. And we would be standing with them and we would be standing with our allies.

So “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is hurting our military. It’s costing our nation. Fourteen-thousand service men and women have been discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It has cost taxpayers about $290 million at least, maybe up to half a billion dollars to replace soldiers who were discharged under this policy. And I know many Americans have seen in their living rooms, coming on the TV, men and women who are our neighbors’ kids and our neighbors who have been kicked out of the military even though they were stellar service men and women.

And I’m also terribly disappointed we won’t have a chance to vote on the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act allows those students who have been here most of their lives an opportunity to earn legalized status if they meet certain criteria. These are kids who were brought over as kids, maybe a month or two, or a year or two, or five or six years old. They must have lived in the U.S. for five years. They must earn a high school diploma. After high school, they must demonstrate strong moral character. And only those that pass these tests would be eligible to get on the pathway to legality.

Sixty-five-thousand young people a year graduate from high school, but they can’t join the military or they can’t go to college because of their immigrant status. And this wasn’t their fault that they were brought into the country by their parents. And I would like to tell you that our military has said, and I will quote Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock. She says, “Potential DREAM Act beneficiaries are likely to be a military recruiter’s dream candidate for enlistment.” Let me repeat that. The military itself has said the DREAM Act will result in a military recruiter’s dream. Because these recruits, some of them are very good with foreign language skills, foreign cultural awareness, they’re in short supply, and they would be excellent recruits.

Businesses support the DREAM Act. Our economic future is something we talk about every day around here. I just read a USC study that said that if we finally begin a process where people who are here who are hard-working and caring can stay here and come out of the shadows, it will create 25,000 jobs and increase the gross domestic product of my state and of the nation. So it seems to me that’s why I have the San Jose Mercury News, the home paper of the Silicon Valley, writing an article in favor of the DREAM Act saying it will boost America’s economic competitiveness.

So here we’re at a time where we have something on the floor that is dramatically related to the military bill, because the military is saying it is a recruiter’s dream, this DREAM Act, because they’re going to have so many people lining up to join. We have Silicon Valley strongly supporting this. And I will tell you that the San Jose Mercury News said, quote: “The high school dropout rate in this country terrifies business leaders who fear that in the coming decades we won’t produce enough college graduates with math and science ability.”

That’s why the Silicon Valley Leadership Group supports the DREAM Act. That’s a group made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They wrote, “DREAM students deserve a chance and the U.S. economy needs their knowledge.” Companies like Microsoft also support the DREAM Act and they wrote, “The DREAM Act rewards those that place a high value on education and service to our country.”

Last week, the President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University System, and the presidents of state universities in Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Utah, and Washington wrote in support of the DREAM ability. They write in a letter, “In the current international economic competition, the U.S. needs all the talent it can acquire and these students represent an extraordinary resource for the country.” “The DREAM Act,” they write, “is an economic imperative.”

In closing, I want to talk about a couple of stories. And I think this is very important.

David graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average. He is studying international economics and Korean at UCLA. He has served as the leader of the UCLA marching band. He spends his free time tutoring students. After graduation, he hopes to enter the Air Force and someday politics. In many ways, he is a model college student and leader in his community. But he was born in Korea. He came here when he was nine. His family spent eight years trying to navigate their way to legalized status only to find out that their sponsor had erred in filing out the paperwork. So here sits David. He had nothing to do with all of this. And here’s what he says. “I will not be able to put my name down on a job application because of my status. This country is throwing away talent every second, but the DREAM Act can bring thousands of students out of the shadows and allow them the opportunity to work for the country they truly love right now.”

So, I would say to these students, like David, who didn’t choose to come to this country. They were brought here by their parents. The reality is they’ve grown up here. This is the only country that they know. And I’m very disappointed that we’re not voting on this important bill today. I hope we can take up the DREAM Act late this year. It will strengthen our economy, our military, and our nation.