The Justice Department released Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s remarks on combating the violent, transnational drug gang MS-13 and the department's efforts to carry out the administration's immigration priorities:
Thank you, Steve for that kind introduction and for nearly a quarter century of service to the Department of Justice. You’ve had some big shoes to fill, following Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but you’re doing the difficult work to keep your hometown safe.
Thank you also to Secretary Nielsen. I also want to congratulate you on your confirmation by the Senate last week in a strong, bipartisan vote.
I think that’s a sign of the confidence that you have inspired in your leadership at the Department and at the White House.
I appreciated our briefing earlier today, and I’m looking forward to working with you to protect the American people and implement the President’s ambitious agenda.
I want to recognize our FBI, DEA, and ATF Special Agents in Charge who are here.
You all do terrific work to protect the American people and I’m proud to stand with you.
But we know too well, violent crime is up in many places across the country. Last week, the Department released its annual National Crime Victimization Survey. It shows that the rate of Americans victimized by violent crime is up more than 13 percent.
Over the last two years, this city in particular has experienced violence like we haven’t seen in nearly a quarter of a century. The violent crime rate is up nearly one-third. Rape is up by 22 percent. Murder is up by half. Baltimore has a higher murder rate and a higher violent crime rate than Chicago with less than a quarter of the population, if you can believe it.
The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump ordered me to reduce crime in America and to take on transnational criminal organizations, cartels, and gangs.
We embrace that agenda, and we are carrying it out aggressively.
This year alone, the Department has secured convictions against more than 1,000 gang members and targeted MS-13.
With more than 10,000 members across 40 U.S. states, MS-13 is one of the most dangerous gangs in America. And make no mistake: this is a transnational organization based in El Salvador, and it is the most violent in our country.
The people of this community have seen it firsthand.
In January, a 15-year old girl from near here in Gaithersburg was stabbed 13 times with knives and a wooden stake by MS-13 members. Her killers filmed the murder so they could show their leaders back in El Salvador.
First, our goal with the Department of Homeland Security is to end the illegality rampant in our immigration system.
As Attorney General, I have ordered our prosecutors to renew their focus on immigration offenses—specifically where those criminals have a gang nexus, cartel, or violent crime offense.
We have sent additional prosecutorial resources to the Southwest Border and created Border Security Coordinators in each of our U.S. Attorney’s Offices—to enforce immigration laws with a special emphasis on criminals, like MS-13, that have a nexus to the Southern Border.
I have designated MS-13 as a priority for our Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. These task forces bring together a broad coalition of federal law enforcement—from DEA, FBI, and ATF to ICE, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, and the IRS. I want to thank Secretary Nielsen and Department of Homeland Security personnel for making an incredible contribution to these task forces.
These are important steps, and we’ve already delivered results for the American people. Together with our partners in Central America, we have filed criminal charges against more than 4,000 MS-13 members and seized many of their firearms, vehicles, and other assets.
But we must also recognize that transnational gangs like MS-13 have taken advantage of our porous Southern Border and previously lax immigration law enforcement.
If we accept lawlessness, then we encourage lawlessness.
When people break our laws without consequences, we shouldn’t be surprised when they continue breaking our laws.
In recent years, our immigration system has been overwhelmed. The caseload has tripled since fiscal 2009 and doubled since fiscal 2012.
As the backlog of immigration cases grew out of control, the previous administration simply closed nearly 200,000 pending immigration court cases without a final decision in just five years—more than were closed in the previous 22 years combined.
But under President Trump, we have already taken steps to bring down the backlog in cases.
We are completing, not closing, immigration cases. Under President Trump, our immigration judges completed 20,000 more cases this last fiscal year than in the previous one.
We have hired 50 immigration judges since January, and we plan to hire another 60 over the next six months.
Last week, I issued a memo to our Executive Office for Immigration Review. Which makes clear that cases are to be resolved either with a removal order or a grant of relief. Appeals that are frivolous ought to be resolved quickly, and fraud ought to be documented and prosecuted.
And finally, we will implement objective performance measures to ensure that our judges are working efficiently and fairly.
The American people—as well as those who would come here and disrespect our laws—can be certain about this: we are enforcing our laws again.
Since President Trump took office, border crossings are now at their lowest level in 45 years. That is a big achievement. But that number can be zero. We can do it.
But it is also up to Congress to improve our laws. We cannot wait any longer. As yesterday’s events showed us in the starkest terms: the failures of our immigration system are a national security issue.
Since 9/11, we have prosecuted more than 500 people for terrorism-related offenses, and preliminary figures suggest that nearly 75 percent of those defendants were foreign born.
The President is exactly right to call attention to these issues and to how they affect our security. In just the last two months, we’ve seen two terrorist attacks in New York City carried out by men who were here as a result of failed immigration policies—the diversity lottery and chain migration.
Between 2005 and 2016, we admitted 9.3 million people under this chain migration policy. And each of those people may be able to sponsor their relatives as well. It’s not sustainable.
The President has also proposed ending chain migration and switching to a merit-based system like they have in Canada and Australia. That means welcoming the best and the brightest and turning away not only terrorists, but gang members and criminals.
We should give priority to those who are likely to thrive here—such as those who speak English or are highly skilled—not someone chosen at random or who happens to be somebody’s relative.
In short, it means looking at factors that indicate the applicant’s likelihood of assimilation and success in the United States.
Let me be clear: ending illegal immigration is not hopeless. Having a legal immigration that serves the national interest is not hopeless. We can do it. The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security are partners in this effort.
If we follow the policies laid out by President Trump, I believe that we will finally have the immigration system the American people have asked for—and the system we deserve.
You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on the Justice Department’s campaign against MS-13 via the below link: