Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to be with you in the beautiful state of Arizona, and an honor to speak with so many outstanding law enforcement leaders. Thank you for everything you do to protect your communities.
I have had the privilege of being Attorney General for just over two months now, and our team has been hard at work. At the direction of President Trump, the Department of Justice is focusing on several key priorities, including promoting public safety; restoring a lawful system of immigration; and supporting and protecting the brave men and women of law enforcement.
Today, I want to talk about our efforts in these three areas.
All of us who work in law enforcement want to keep people safe. That is the heart of our jobs; it is what drives us every day.
Our nation has won great victories against crime in the past four decades — and the good people of law enforcement made those victories possible. Murder rates are half of what they were in 1980, and we have driven the violent crime rate down to almost half of what it was at its peak.
But today, we also see signs that this progress is now at risk.
The latest FBI data tell us that from 2014 to 2015, the violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by more than 3 percent — the largest one-year increase since 1991. The murder rate increased 10 percent — the largest increase since 1968.
If this was just a one-year spike, we might not worry too much. But the preliminary data for the first half of 2016 showed further increases.
These numbers should trouble all of us — especially those of us charged with protecting public safety. Behind all the data are real people whose safety and lives are at stake.
My fear is that this surge in violent crime is not a “blip,” but the start of a dangerous new trend — one that puts at risk the hard-won gains that have made our country a safer place.
While we can hope for the best, hope is not a strategy. We must act decisively at all levels — federal, state and local — to reverse this rise in violent crime and ensure public safety.
Leadership from the top is essential — and President Trump has given us clear direction. In February, he issued three executive orders directing the federal government to reduce crime and restore public safety. This is a high priority for him, and for the Department of Justice, so I want to discuss briefly how we are tackling it.
First, we are making sure the federal government focuses its resources and efforts on this surge in violent crime.
In late February, we created a Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. It includes crime reduction experts from throughout our Department, including the heads of the FBI, ATF, DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The task force is evaluating everything we are doing at the federal level — and it will be meeting with and listening to our state, local and tribal partners and law enforcement organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The task force subcommittees are looking at a range of issues, including developing violent crime reduction strategies; supporting prevention and re-entry efforts; updating charging and sentencing policies; reviewing asset forfeiture guidance; reducing illegal immigration and human trafficking; combatting hate crimes; and evaluating marijuana enforcement policy. I look forward to acting on their recommendations.
Second: We need to use every lawful tool we have to get the most violent offenders off our streets. Not many people are capable of murder and other violent crimes. The more of them we take off the streets so they can no longer harm others, the safer our neighborhoods will be.
Last month, I directed our federal prosecutors to work closely with their federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to target the most violent offenders in their districts. Only through collaborative efforts can we effectively identify the most dangerous criminals and incapacitate them. Working together, we will determine which venue — federal or state — would best be suited to remove these criminals from our communities, and ensure they are held fully accountable for their crimes.
To improve public safety, we must also restore a lawful system of immigration — one that serves our national interest, upholds the rule of law and keeps us safe.
Earlier this morning, I toured the border area near Nogales and met with Customs and Border Protection agents there. These are dedicated people, doing challenging work under tough conditions. We must give them all the help they need to secure our borders and stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into our country. We must help and empower them to interdict and disrupt violent cartels and transnational gangs like MS-13 at the border, so they can no longer infiltrate communities around the country with their death and destruction.
The President has made this a priority — and already we are seeing the results. From January to February of this year, illegal border crossings dropped by 40 percent, which was unprecedented. Then, last month, we saw a 72 percent drop compared to the month before the President was inaugurated. That’s the lowest monthly figure for at least 17 years.
This is no accident. This is what happens when you have a President who understands the threat, who is not afraid to publically identify the threat and stand up to it, and who makes clear to law enforcement that the leadership of their country finally has their back. When criminals know we will enforce our laws, they are less likely to attempt to break those laws in the first place.
The Department of Justice is doing several things to build on this progress.
This morning, I announced new guidance directing all federal prosecutors to prioritize criminal immigration enforcement. These prosecutors are now required to consider for prosecution all of the following offenses:
The transportation or harboring of aliens. We are going to shut down and jail those who are profiting off this lawlessness — people who smuggle gang members and convicted criminals across the border, and who prey on those who don’t know how dangerous the journey can be.
Further, where an alien has unlawfully entered the country, which is a misdemeanor, that alien will now be charged with a felony if they unlawfully enter or attempt to enter a second time and certain aggravating circumstances are present.
Also, aliens that illegally re-enter the country after prior removal will be referred for felony prosecution — and a priority will be given to such offenses, especially where indicators of gang affiliation, a risk to public safety or criminal history are present.
Fourth: where possible, prosecutors are directed to charge criminal aliens with document fraud and aggravated identity theft — the latter carrying a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly: I have directed that all 94 U.S. Attorneys Offices make the prosecution of assault on a federal law enforcement officer a top priority. If someone dares to assault one of our people in the line of duty, they will do federal time for it.
To ensure that these priorities are implemented, starting today, each U.S. Attorney’s Office, whether on the border or interior, will designate an Assistant U.S. Attorney as the Border Security Coordinator for their District. It will be this experienced prosecutor’s job to coordinate the criminal immigration enforcement response for their offices.
For those that continue to seek unlawful entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch and release practices of old are over.
Today I also announced a series of reforms regarding immigration judges to address the significant backlogs in our immigration courts.
Pursuant to the President’s executive order, we will now be detaining all adults who we apprehend at the border. To support this mission, we have already surged 25 immigration judges to detention centers along the border.
In addition, we will put 50 more immigration judges on the bench this year and 75 next year. We can no longer afford to wait 18 to 24 months to get these new judges on the bench. So today, I have implemented a new, streamlined hiring plan. It requires just as much vetting as before, but reduces the timeline, reflecting the dire need to reduce the backlogs in our immigration courts.
With the President’s Executive Orders on Border Security, Transnational Criminal Organizations, and Public Safety as our guideposts, we will execute a strategy that once again secures the border; apprehends and prosecutes those criminal aliens that threaten our public safety; takes the fight to gangs like MS-13 and Los Zetas; and makes dismantlement and destruction of cartels a top priority.
Finally, to restore a lawful immigration system and protect public safety, we must also address the issue of so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
The Department of Justice has a great tradition of working with states and cities to make our communities safer. In few areas is this cooperation more vital than in the enforcement of our immigration laws.
Of course, this enforcement is a federal responsibility. But without the help of our state and local partners, criminal aliens — people in this country illegally who have committed serious crimes like domestic violence, child abuse and rape — are often released back onto our streets. That makes us less safe.
We will never forget Kate Steinle, the young woman who was shot and killed two years ago in San Francisco. The alleged shooter was an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and had seven felony convictions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lodged a detainer requesting that he be kept in custody until they could pick him up for deportation, but San Francisco did not honor the request. Had the city cooperated with federal officials, Kate Steinle would likely still be alive.
In addition, we can’t stand here in Arizona without thinking of Grant Ronnebeck. This young man selflessly took a job at a convenience store to help support his family, only to be viciously murdered. The alleged murder was committed by a suspected illegal alien with a criminal record. What is not suspected, what is not alleged but is a fact, is that Grant is gone — having been executed while he did an honest night’s work for an honest wage.
We will not allow these deaths to have been in vain. This lawlessness must end.
The Department of Justice is working with cities and states that are serious about enforcing the law and making their neighborhoods safer. I thank and applaud those jurisdictions. Please know that you have the full support of our Department — and that we are ready to provide more resources to help you keep your communities safe.
But there are holdouts. Some mayors and city councils, and even a police chief and a sheriff here and there, are refusing to work with the federal government, choosing instead to protect the criminal aliens who harm public safety. Today, I urge them to work with us. For the sake of your communities, families, and children, work with us, so we can restore a lawful system of immigration and make our country a safer place.
Protecting and Supporting Law Enforcement
Another priority of President Trump’s, and this Department of Justice, is to protect and support our brave men and women in law enforcement.
The federal government alone cannot meet the challenge of violent crime and drugs. In fact, about 85 percent of all law enforcement officers in our nation are state, local and tribal. These are the men and women you lead, the ones on the front lines.
Unfortunately, in recent years, as you know, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors. Amid this intense criticism, morale has gone down, while the number of officers killed in the line of duty has gone up.
Certainly, we must continue to address police misconduct, and the Department of Justice will do its part. But we also can’t lose sight of two things.
First, the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement are good people who have chosen to do tremendously hard jobs because they want to protect us all. You know this, because you lead these good people every day.
Second, it is proactive, up-close policing — when officers get out of their squad cars and interact with everyone on their beat — that builds trust, prevents violent crime and saves lives. Again, all of you know this, because you have seen it work.
Unfortunately, many law enforcement leaders like you are telling us that in today’s environment, this kind of policing is more difficult. In some cities like Baltimore, arrests have fallen substantially even as murder rates have surged.
This is a terrible place to be, because you and I know that tough and professional law enforcement can reduce crime and save lives.
To turn back rising crime, we must rely heavily on all of you in state, local, and tribal law enforcement to lead the way — and you must be confident in our steadfast support.
Let me say a few words here about the issue of consent decrees. These decrees are not a silver bullet for solving the tough issues confronting some police departments. They make departments pull scarce resources and personnel away from crime-fighting in order to satisfy the demands of highly-paid monitors. I also have grave concerns that some provisions of these decrees reduce the lawful powers of police departments in ways that make cities less safe.
Our Department of Justice agrees with the need to rebuild public confidence in law enforcement through common-sense reforms, such as de-escalation training. But any reforms must be done in a way that respects civil rights, promotes public safety and doesn’t get our Department into the business of running the day-to-day operations of local police departments.
To that end, last week I directed the heads of Justice Department components and all our United States Attorneys to review immediately all Department activities, to ensure that they fully and effectively promote the following principles:
We will help promote officer safety, officer morale and public support for your uniquely dangerous work.
We will ensure that law enforcement protects and respects the civil rights of all.
We will respect the local control and local accountability that are needed for effective policing.
We will strengthen partnerships between federal, state, local and tribal officers.
And we will not allow the misdeeds of a few bad actors to impugn or undermine the legitimate work of law enforcement.
Today, I affirm this commitment to you: This Department of Justice will encourage the proactive policing that your departments must do to keep our neighborhoods safe. And we will have the back of all honest and honorable law enforcement officers.
This afternoon I have discussed just a few of the many challenges we face in our work to keep our country safe. These challenges are too vast for any one department or agency to confront alone. So we must take them on together, to ensure justice and safety for all Americans.
In this great task, I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each of you, and with all the good men and women you lead.
Thank you for inviting me here today.