1:57 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please. Good group. This is a very talented group of people. (Laughter.) Well, thank you very much. We need talent for what we’re doing, believe me.
We’re here to discuss the tremendous threat of MS-13, one of the most violent and vicious gangs anywhere in the world. We’ve really never seen anything quite like this — the level of ferocity, the level of violence, and the reforms we need from Congress to defeat it.
I’m honored to be joined by DHS Secretary Nielsen, top officials in federal law enforcement, and our local sheriffs — our great, great sheriffs.
We’re also joined by Congressman Peter King. Peter, thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Pleasure.
THE PRESIDENT: Congressman Lee Zeldin. Lee, good to have you. You’ve been working hard on this, you too. I know that. Martha — Martha McSally. Good. I hear you’re doing well out there. That’s what the word is. Congresswoman Barbara Comstock. Barbara. Thank you, Barbara. Good, nice to have you. And Congressman Michael McCaul, who’s really an expert on this subject and has been for a long period of time. It’s a tough subject.
MS-13 recruits through our broken immigration system, violating our borders. And it just comes right through — whenever they want to come through, they come through. It’s much tougher now since we’ve been there, but we need much better border mechanisms and much better border security. We need the wall; we’re going to get the wall. If we don’t have the wall, we’re never going to solve this problem. And I’ve gone to the top people. Many of these people are at the table right now, including this group. And without the wall, it’s not going to work.
During my State of the Union, I called on Congress to close the immigration loopholes that have allowed this deadly gang to break so easily into our country. My administration has identified three priorities. We went through and looked very closely. We’ve identified three priorities for creating a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system: securing the border, ending chain migration, and cancelling the terrible visa lottery.
We’ve been discussing it, we’ve been talking about it. We’re talking about it in Congress. We’re talking about DACA and how we can work that out. And I think the Democrats don’t want to make a deal, but we’ll find out.
As Congress considers immigration reform, it’s essential that we listen to the law enforcement professionals in this room today. And so I’m going to turn it over to Secretary Nielsen. We’ll begin a discussion. And you folks might want to stay for a little while. Okay?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, Mr. President, thank you for hosting this roundtable today on MS-13. As you know, it’s the first gang dangerous enough to be classified as a transnational criminal organization.
We’ve talked at length of the devastating destruction and violence that it causes in our communities, and we’re here today to hear form a variety of folks who work every day to combat this.
First, I’d just like to say it’s my privilege to be here with the men and women of DHS and DOJ who make it their job every day to fight this and other violence coming across our borders, and also, to be joined by members of Congress who have shown great leadership. We thank you for that and always for your support of DHS and DOJ. So thank you all.
In your recently announced framework, as you know, you asked Congress to close loopholes that you just talked about. So when we talk about MS-13, we have two or three main loopholes.
The first is, we have an inadmissibility problem, meaning that when they come to our border, I have to let them in. I cannot keep them out by virtue of them being in a gang. Once we catch them and detain them, I cannot remove them by virtue of them being in a gang.
THE PRESIDENT: And, by the way, these things are unique to our country. No other country has this. This is unique to our country, and it’s got to change.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: So the framework that you proposed will close these. So I remain hopeful to work with Congress on your behalf and the administration’s behalf to close these and other loopholes to secure our borders and our communities.
So without going into further detail, I’d like to turn it over to John Cronan, who’s the Acting Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Criminal Division. He’s going to walk us through a bit more of MS-13.
MR. CRONAN: Thank you, Secretary Nielsen.
As you know, Mr. President, as you just stated, one of the most significant public safety threats that our communities face comes from MS-13.
MS-13 has more than 30,000 members worldwide. But the gang has a particularly massive and troubling presence on United States soil. The numbers are staggering. An estimated 10,000 MS-13 members are living in our country. They’re primarily composed of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, and they have infiltrated our entire country.
There are MS-13 members in 40 states and the District of Columbia. It is estimated that there are upwards of 2,000 MS-13 members in Los Angeles; between 800 and 1,200 in Dallas and Houston; 2,000 in Long Island; 800 and 1,000 in Boston; and 3,000 members right here in the D.C. metropolitan area.
And, Mr. President, as you just said, MS-13 is probably the most ruthless and violent gang terrorizing our streets today. One of their mottos is, “Mata, Viola, Controla,” which means, “Kill, Rape, Control.” And, Mr. President, it is a model that MS-13 lives by.
MS-13 members engage in indiscriminate violence. They commit rape, extortion, murder, often just for the sake of it. They recruit children to be their murderers. They gang-rape young girls, they sell them for sex. They attack their victims with chains, bats, machetes, firearms. There is a photo up there, Mr. President, of a shotgun and a machete that was recovered from MS-13 members who were stopped by the police as they were on their way to murder a student at a high school in Woodbridge, Virginia.
In January of last year, Damaris Reyes Rivas, a 15 year-old girl from a suburb of D.C., was stabbed 13 times with knives and a wooden stake by MS-13 members. Damaris’s killers filmed her murder so that they could show their leaders back in El Salvador. And Damaris’s body was then barbarically dumped next to railroad tracks that run under the Beltway.
Mr. President, you know well the story of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenage girls who were best friends and also were savagely murder by MS-13 thugs in September 2016. You had their parents as your guests a week ago at the State of the Union.
A year before that, in September 2015, four MS-13 members in Boston lured a 15-year-old boy to Constitution Beach in East Boston, where they took turns stabbing him to death. The four murderers passed around two knives as they methodically ended his life.
The next photo up there, Mr. President, are the remains of someone who is suspected of being a rival gang member. MS-13 members lured their victim into the woods of Central Islip, Long Island, where they beat him with sticks and a fire extinguisher, and then cut his throat with a pocketknife. Once dead, the savages sadistically stuffed his body into that drainage pipe, where it went for months without being discovered.
In October 2013, MS-13 members murdered someone they believed to be a snitch in a park in Falls Church, Virginia, stabbing him with knives and slashing him with a machete. And when they were done, they buried the body in a shallow grave in the park. And then just a few months later, in the very same park, MS-13 members murdered a recruit who had violated gang rules. They severed his head, and they buried his body as well.
That’s the first of the two shallow graves used to bury the two bodies, and that is the second of the two graves. Shallow graves used to bury two bodies in a park just about 10 miles from here.
We cannot, and we will not, let our neighborhoods be overrun by violent crime. And that is why dismantling violent gangs, and specifically MS-13, is a top priority of the Department of Justice.
Like I said, Mr. President, MS-13’s motto is, “Kill, Rape, Control.” As Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said before, the Department of Justice’s motto is, “Justice for victims, and consequences for criminals.” And we too are living by that motto.
The Department of Justice is devoting the resources necessary to ensure that our citizens are no longer being held hostage by murderous savages like MS-13 members. And it is working.
Last year, the Department secured convictions against more than 1,200 gang members. We tried the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. We brought the most cases against violent criminals in at least a quarter of a century. And we also are enhancing the capacity of the Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — so they can combat MS-13 themselves.
This past summer, Attorney General Sessions visited El Salvador, where he met with the El Salvadorian Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, to discuss joint efforts to dismantle MS-13 at its roots. Soon after that meeting, 700 gang members were charged in El Salvador.
And, Mr. President, in total, our work with our Central American partners have resulted in arrests and charges against more than 4,000 suspected MS-13 members. And we will not stop. The Department of Justice will be surging more federal prosecutors, hundreds of federal prosecutors to the field, with specific directions to focus on violent crime and immigration. And we will continue to use our robust criminal statutes to arrest violent criminals for whatever crime they commit — murder, racketeering, kidnapping, drug trafficking — and get them off our streets.
But, Mr. President, because MS-13 is based and operates in El Salvador, and MS-13 largely directs its murderous mission from prisons in El Salvador, it is not enough to enforce our domestic violent crime laws against gang members in the United States. To effectively combat transnational organized crime, we also need enforcement of our immigration laws. The reason MS-13 is so massive in our country, the reason why they have 10,000 members in 40 states and the District of Columbia, is because many of those gang members have illegally entered our country.
Now, the Department of Justice and our state authorities can continue to prosecute scores of MS-13 members located in the United States. But when we fail to enforce our immigration and human smuggling laws, when we have loopholes in our immigration laws, and when we have porous borders and insufficient enforcement of our immigration laws, MS-13 can simply replenish its jail population by sending more and more gang members across our borders.
And that is why the Department of Justice, under the Attorney General’s leadership, is also focused on stopping the flow of criminal aliens entering our country. The Attorney General has directed his prosecutors to renew their focus on immigration offenses, especially for offenders who have a nexus to gangs or drug cartels. The Attorney General has sent additional prosecutorial resources to the Southwest border, and he has created border security coordinators in each United States attorneys’ offices. They’ve been tasked with enforcing our immigration laws with a special emphasis on criminals like MS-13 with a nexus to the Southwest border.
And, lastly, Mr. President, on the smuggling front, the Department of Justice is working with the Department of Homeland Security to identify smuggling routes and to investigate and prosecute MS-13 smuggling networks.
Mr. President, the Department of Justice, along with the Department of Homeland Security, and our federal and state law enforcement partners, is committed to taking all lawful measures to end the scourge to our communities.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, John. This is after, actually, removing thousands of them out — some into the prisons — but literally thousands of people are removed out. But they come back as fast as we take them out. Different ones — not even the same ones — different ones. But they come back.
And we need these immigration laws changed if we’re not going to — we’re just not going to be able to continue to do this. They just come in so fast, so easy. And then you have catch-and-release: You catch people and then you have to release them right away.
Not another country in the world has the stupidity of laws that we do when it comes to immigration. And if we don’t get them changed — this isn’t politics, this isn’t Republican and Democrat. This is common sense. So it has to be taken care of.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Sir, it’s my privilege to introduce you to Angel Melendez, who’s the special agent in charge of our ICE office in New York City. I just want to say I’m extremely proud of everything that our HSI office does — all of them. But New York, in particular, leads the fight against MS-13, and they truly, day to day, put their lives in danger.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: He does a great job. Terrific.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: So, please, Angel.
MR. MELENDEZ: Mr. President, good afternoon. This is quite the privilege to brief you on some of our efforts. And one of the things that’s very important to address when we’re talking about MS-13 is that this is a war. We’re at war — a war in their countries against the command and control. It’s an issue that we’re facing at the borders. And once it goes beyond the borders, it’s a war that we’re battling on the streets with our local and law enforcement partners.
The most important piece to any strategy in addressing MS-13 is collaboration, intelligence sharing, and immigration enforcement. Collaboration across the spectrum, across the continuum, with countries such as the Northern Triangle countries where we do have vetted teams of foreign national law enforcement officials working side to side with HSI and CBP in those countries.
Locally, we do the same thing. We’ve been able to effectively implement a unity of effort within the Department of Homeland Security, where all of its agencies, all of its components that have a direct nexus to immigration enforcement and to controlling the borders are working together to face MS-13.
One of the things that we look at is illicit pathways. How do they get here? Who brings them here? And what we’ve been able to see is that MS-13 is not an organization that has their own smuggling apparatus. So they do utilize other organizations that are completely experts — or complete experts — in the smuggling aspect.
Last year, we were able to convict an individual who was responsible for a smuggling network of special interest aliens coming in from Pakistan, through Brazil, to Central America, Mexico, and the United States. It’s that same type of illicit pathway that MS-13 exploits. And we continue to work with our foreign partners and our state and local partners and DHS partners to be able to identify those pathways.
Capacity-building and information-sharing is extremely important — capacity-building of those Northern Triangle countries. If we take the fight in their own territory, it’s less of a fight that we have to face here.
But notwithstanding that, once they’re here, we have to address it. So they came across the border, and now we have to look at how can we curtail recruitment. So when we look at the numbers — and I’m just going to talk about numbers as of — and this is posted on our website already for the Office of Refugee Resettlement — in 2017 alone — 2017 alone, 40,810 unaccompanied alien children were placed for resettlement. These aren’t the total amounts of UACs that were detained at the border. These were the ones that were referred to be resettled within the United States.
When you look at the demographics, it turns out to 21,881 of them are from Northern Triangle countries; they are in the right age for gang recruitment, between the ages of 13 and 17; and they are males. I am not saying — and I want to be clear — that 21,000 of these unaccompanied alien children are gang members. What I’m saying, understanding MS-13, is that they’re looking at these 21,000 unaccompanied alien children that came into those states as potential recruits to continue to fill in their ranks.
Another aspect — another thing that we’ve been able to look at is, across certain operations that we’ve been able to manage throughout the last couple of years, 30 percent is a consistent number that we’ve seen of MS-13 members that have been arrested that came into this country as unaccompanied alien children.
Specifically in New York, another point of interest that we’ve been addressing or we’ve been looking at is the Special Immigrant Juvenile program. Sixty-three percent of the unaccompanied alien children have filed for this immigration status that provides them a road to a green card, to lawful permanent resident, and eventually even to citizenship.
The way this works is, basically, a state court provides an order — a special cause — in which this alien is able to apply through CIS for this status. Now, one of the things that we’ve seen is we don’t know what’s in the family court records. So we cannot utilize any information provided in those proceedings to validate with the information that we either have because of the encounter at the border, or because of the process over in the local office.
Finances. Finance is another important aspect of MS-13. We’ve been able to identify a very complex, integral scheme of the way they move their money. And we’re not — in no way, shape, or form are we talking money — cartel-type money. We’re talking about money that they utilize to be able to finance not only their movements, but their day-to-day operations; money that’s coming from the states, back to the command and control in the Northern Triangle.
One of the most important tools that we have in our arsenal is the designation of MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization by the Department of Justice — Department of Treasury, if I may correct myself.
I have — and I have to say — and I have numerous pages of talking points of things that I can talk about, but I want to give you, Mr. President, our perspective from the field. When you have agents going out identifying, based on intelligence, and conducting targeted enforcement operations, they apprehend these individuals that we’re able to determine that are MS-13 members. And once they are presented to the immigration judge for detention purposes, we explain that these individuals are a threat to society and they are MS-13 members. But we cannot provide all the information that we have because in many instances, the information that we have is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
These individuals are being released, and then we have to utilize our resources to focus on these individuals that have been released.
So from our perspective, from the field, there are many things that could be accomplished within immigration law. But I can tell you from my perspective of what I’m seeing on a
day-to-day basis, we have agents going out, we have agents arresting, and then we have these individuals that were arrested being released again.
Through our efforts since 2005, ICE has arrested over 7,000 MS-13 members. In this quarter, this last quarter of 2018, we’ve been able to arrest 428 MS-13 members. And that talks about the numbers. So we know, or we understand based on intelligence gathered, that there are thousands of MS-13 across the country. There are even more in the Northern Triangle and in Mexico. We’ve seen a presence in the country north of us, in Canada, as well.
The fact of the matter is that we continue to arrest, we continue to arrest, and since we haven’t been able to shut down the pipeline, they continue to come into our country. And it is something that we need to address to be more effective in disrupting and dismantling, once and for all, MS-13.
Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: We need cooperation from the Democrats, you know that? Because we have to change the rules, we have to change the laws, and that’s all part of what we’re trying to get approved. Because right now — the way it is right now, you just can’t do that. Everything you do is illegal. You can’t touch, you can’t do anything. And if we don’t get those laws changed, we will do better than anybody can do, but still, it will never be satisfactory.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Thank you. Thank you. I’d like to ask Jessie Liu, the U.S. Attorney for District of Columbia, to give us a few examples of cases that she’s worked.
MS. LIU: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Nielsen. And thank you, Mr. President, for inviting me to be here to talk about MS-13 and what we’re doing to combat it here in Washington, D.C.
As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, my top priority is the safety of the people who live and work here, and that means protecting them from vicious criminal gangs like MS-13.
So in recent years, working with our law enforcement partners, we’ve successfully prosecuted a number of MS-13 leaders and members for murder, maiming, racketeering, and other crimes. And a number of those individuals are now serving prison sentences of life, or even beyond.
In one case, a woman in D.C. took in an MS-13 gang member from her home country of El Salvador, and allowed him to live with her and her family. The gang member then began recruiting the woman’s son to join MS-13. And when she objected, the gang member shot her in the head as she was waiting at a bus stop, three miles from where we’re sitting right now, and then shot her again in the head as she was lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Miraculously, Mr. President, she survived, but she was permanently blinded by that attack.
In another case my office handled, MS-13 members repeatedly stabbed and killed a 14-year-old boy near the Columbia Heights metro station, and that’s about two and a half miles from where we’re sitting right now.
In yet another case, MS-13 members attacked a fellow MS-13 member who had removed his gang tattoos. They stabbed him at least 20 times and killed him.
We believe that these prosecutions, which took many years to build, helped disrupt MS-13 in the District of Columbia. But we know that it continues to operate here in this city, as well as next door in Virginia and Maryland. And we’re particularly concerned about its international reach, including its violence and drug dealing, and its efforts to recruit young people.
That’s why we work every day, very closely, with our fantastic law enforcement partners at ICE, at the FBI, at the Metropolitan Police Department and other agencies, as we well as our strong allies in the community who work to dissuade young people from joining gangs like MS-13.
Mr. President, we’re very grateful for the support that you’ve given to our efforts, for our close partnership with the Secretary and her team, and for the guidance and resources from our colleagues at Main Justice, like Mr. Cronan. And I thank you again for the opportunity to brief you on this today.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jessie, very much. Great job.
MS. LIU: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Thank you. I’d like to turn it over to Director Cissna, who you’ve been hearing from a lot as we work to revise our immigration system. He’s going to talk a little bit about backlog and how that further exacerbates this problem.
MR. CISSNA: So, Mr. President, there’s — at the outset of your remarks, you talked about the four pillars of immigration reform that the administration is advancing right now: getting rid of chain migration, getting rid of the visa lottery, border security, and some sort of DACA fix.
This issue of gangs attaches itself to each of those in a different way, and I think for border security, obviously. If the border is not secure, it’s not just a question of border integrity or the integrity of our immigration laws, but as Agent Melendez just described, if these people are coming through because the border isn’t secure, it harms public safety in the interior as well. It’s all connected.
With respect to the other three, any immigration program that has little to no selectivity is going to potentially allow mala fide actors to come into the country if we’re not watchful and if the law does not help us.
I would say one thing. I want to amplify, then, on something the Secretary said; she talked about the loopholes that we’ve also been struggling against in the priorities we’ve been advancing. The loophole that she talked about was that there are no grounds in the law right now that permit us to deport a gang member merely because he’s a gang member. We have to wait until they’ve actually killed somebody or harmed an American. Then we have a reason to deport them; then we can get them. Or if they’re here unlawfully, okay. But if they’re here lawfully, and they’re a gang member, there’s no ground of removal, really.
Similarly, there’s no ground of inadmissibility. So we can’t stop them from coming in, and my people may have to grant them an immigration pathway because there’s no — nothing in the law that makes a gang member, merely because they’re a gang member, ineligible for that benefit.
Indeed, they might even get citizenship under the law right now. You have to have what’s called good moral character to become a citizen. But gang membership is not explicitly on the list of things that makes you not qualified for good moral character.
We can take it into account, we can look at it, we can weigh their gang membership against other things in their life, but we are not required to deny them the citizenship.
This is untenable, and I urge the members of Congress sitting here today to help us fix that. That is a horrendous loophole. It affects public safety, it affects the integrity of our laws. It cannot stand. That’s all.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thanks, Francis.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Thank you. If we could turn it over to a sheriff from Loudoun County. If you could give us some perspective on the field that would be great.
SHERIFF CHAPMAN: Thank you, Mr. President. I’m Mike Chapman, I’m a sheriff with Loudoun County. I’m honored to be here. And we represent probably one of the fastest-growing, wealthiest counties in the nation. Even Forbes magazine, I think, has said we were one of the happiest counties in the nation.
And despite that, we still have gang problems out there. A couple years ago, we had two gang homicides that directly involved MS-13 members as both — against 18th Street members. So that they were both the victims and assailants in this. One was a 16-year-old boy, went in to get on the school bus, got gunned down while just getting ready to go on the school bus. And another victim was stabbed 17 times. He was jumped by other gang members and stabbed 17 times.
So it’s a very real problem out there, and we have to be concerned about that, and what we do enforcement-wise. And also, being a full-service sheriff’s office, we also handle the jails. So we have to make sure that anybody that we get into that jail that has a — that’s an illegal alien, we got to make sure that we notify ICE. And we’ve had a great relationship with ICE, and they’ve come in and gotten practically everybody that we’ve had in the jail.
So we notify them as quickly as we can in advance, and we do that. Now, we have a great relationship with our state and local counterparts, with our federal counterparts. We’re part of the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force. That’s a 12-agency team that surrounds the Washington, D.C. area, and that team is responsible for really going after many of these gang crimes that you see in the particular area, and it’s great.
I’m formerly with the Drug Enforcement Administration, so I’ve been able to leverage my federal partnerships with the DEA and the FBI to make sure that we’re all part of the same team, working together with Homeland Security, HSI. And we have somebody on the task force there. We have members cross-designated to FBI to us, us to them, so we’re trying to make sure that we have robust interrelationships going on with everybody in the area to make sure that we’re not missing (inaudible) when it comes down to who is who, what they’re doing, and how we can best go after these people.
We also — and I know I work quite a bit with Congresswoman Comstock here, and I know she’s pushing the bill here, Project Safe Neighborhoods (inaudible), but we are looking to get additional funding to make sure that we sustain this Northern Virginia Gang Task Force because it has been so successful in the area.
Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Sheriff, very much.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: I’m just going to turn it over to Chairman McCaul from the House Homeland. Before I do, I just want to say, sir, I think what you’ve heard on this side of the table is it takes a whole-of-government approach, and we’re able to do that under your leadership, which we appreciate. So it’s state, local, the federal partners, and also our international partners. I think you’ve heard a lot, as well, that we’re trying to work with the countries — the originating countries to help stop that.
THE PRESIDENT: But you can only do as much as the law permits.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: And the law doesn’t permit you to do very much.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Less than any nation in the world. If other nations see what we’re doing — and they do watch what we’re doing, and they laugh at us. They can’t believe that these policies, where you can’t get people out that you know are killers — literally killers — and you have to release them. And we’re going to change it. One of the things that we’ll do is have much better cooperation, because some countries, on top of everything else, we give them tremendous amounts of aid, and then they won’t take their killers back when we have them. Is that a correct statement, Sheriff? They won’t take them back.
SHERIFF CHAPMAN: Right.
THE PRESIDENT: So we bring them back into the country. They say, no, we don’t want them. And yet, we give them billions of dollars in aid. So I’ve told my people, anybody that doesn’t take them back, Peter, we immediately say, “That’s okay, we just saved a lot of money. We’re not going to do it.” And immediately they start taking them back. That’s happened in numerous occasions. So they’ve never done that before. They never thought it was appropriate to talk about aid and the money that we give these countries foolishly.
So I’d like to hear from Michael, and I’d like to hear from Peter and Lee and real quickly, and, Barbara, if you could, and just as to what you think, because I know you’ve been suffering with this. Peter, and Michael, I know you’ve been so much into it; this is what you do. And you’ve been suffering with this whole thing for a long time.
One of the things that we’re trying to do is, in the legislation that we’re talking about, we have a lot of laws that nobody even mentions, but they have to be changed. They have to be gotten rid of. And we have very tough provisions for coming into this country. And it will cover you, and I think we’re very specific as to what we have to do. And we stop catch-and-release, we stop a lot of elements of what we have that are very, very bad and very dangerous for our country.
REPRESENTATIVE MCCAUL: Thank you, Mr. President, and Madam Secretary. I was a federal prosecutor in my home state of Texas, on the border. I’ve seen the human and drug trafficking, and these heinous murders that you’ve heard about for too long.
And the first bill I introduced was to end catch-and-release. And here we are still talking about that problem. The difference, sir, is that you’re President of the United States. The difference is that we now have the political will in Washington to finally fix this problem. I’ve seen it for a long time as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
You know, Secretary, I think, Kelly talked about transnational criminal organizations possibly working with terrorists to get into the United States. I think that’s the worst-case scenario that we worry about, is a special interest alien or terrorist getting into the United States and killing Americans. That’s our utmost responsibility.
As you know, Chairman Goodlatte, myself, and Martha McSally have worked to introduce a bill to achieve your four pillars of border security, authorizing a wall barrier system and technology and personnel and boots on the ground; ending chain migration, this lottery system that’s totally random, that really makes no sense. We had two terror attacks in New York that were the result of those two programs. And then, finally, fixing DACA.
But I just can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have the leadership at this table, all across the federal, state, and local, paying attention to this very important issue. It’s a public safety issue, but it’s also a national security issue. And it’s time to finally end these dangerous loopholes. When I talk to the Secretary, she says, I don’t have the authority to deport these dangerous criminals. I’ve been down to the detention spaces, I’ve seen these teenage males that their home becomes MS-13. That becomes their family. And then they’re a threat to our society.
And so we want to give the Secretary that authority to end and close the dangerous loopholes so we can deport and remove these dangerous criminals from the United States.
THE PRESIDENT: So, as you know, we can’t do a job — these incredible professionals at the table cannot do their job unless we change, really, the legislation. And we’re going to get it done.
Frankly — I’ll go a step further — if we don’t change the legislation, if we don’t rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill — gang members. And we’re just talking about MS-13. There are many gang members that we don’t even mention. If we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown. And it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.
So we have to strengthen our borders, not by a little bit but by a lot. We are so far behind the time. And, by the way, the world is laughing at us because they can’t believe these policies. They don’t have it. I could name 15 of them right now. No other country in the world has what we have. And we’re going to get it stopped.
And if we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety and — unrelated but still related — they don’t want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We’ll go with another shutdown.
Okay. Peter King.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Thank you, Mr. President. And let me thank you for your leadership. I can’t emphasize enough how serious the MS-13 threat is on Long Island. In my district alone, we had 17 murders in 18 months. You were out there. You went to Brentwood, right in the belly of the beast. You saw what was happening.
And let me especially thank Special Agent Melendez. The HSI, working with the FBI in Suffolk County, and Nassau County Police do a phenomenal job. He’s really on the line.
Also, I want to thank you, Mr. President, apart from providing the leadership, which is so important — also, we got grants into the Suffolk County Police, we have more assistant U.S. attorneys going into the Eastern District of New York, and Operation Matador has been extremely successful. But all you can do is really go after the ones that are here, but we need better policies to keep them from coming here.
And Angel mentioned the unaccompanied alien children, and that is really an issue, because we’ve found that, for instance, in the last murder indictments, 6 of the 11 who were indicted come in as unaccompanied minors. About almost 30 percent of those who are arrested in MS-13 are unaccompanied minors. I think we have to do more through HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement to find out who these families are that the kids are being placed with.
There’s been intelligence of the Suffolk Country Police showing that often you have MS-13 in El Salvador actually either pressuring families on Long Island to take these kids, or these families are MS-13 families to begin with. And yet, the local police are not notified, often, when these kids come in. There’s only a perfunctory follow-up. I think we should have fingerprinting of the families, much more. And people complain about it, but again, if a family is going to be taking on these kids in — and these are the kids going out and recruiting in the schools. Again, 99 percent of the kids are good kids, but on the other hand, more than 30 percent of MS-13 are these unaccompanied minors. So they are — I’ve been to Central Islip schools and Brentwood schools seeing the harm that these kids are causing.
And again, there’s no follow-up by the federal government, really, as to families (inaudible) what these kids are doing. Local police don’t even know that they’re unaccompanied minors.
THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, a lot of the follow-up isn’t allowed. You do know that.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Right. I know that, yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: Because the legislation doesn’t allow you to go and do the follow-up, which is just crazy.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Now, if a foster child was placed with a family, there’s more follow-up by the government.
THE PRESIDENT: True.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: So this is something I would really ask to be addressed, that we vet those families that the kids are going with, and also stand with the police. We have the local, so-called “immigration advocates” who fight Angel every week — they fight ICE; they fight HSI; they fight the local police; they fight the FBI — claiming this is some kind of a plot to deport everyone.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: The fact is, when you talk to the victims, though — like the Cuevas or Mickens families — they will tell you they want you guys to do whatever you can — go in harder than ever. Because it really is — this is life or death. Within a mile of my house, they’re digging for bodies. So this is serious stuff.
So I would say that, stay on it, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I know your area very well. I know the problem we’ve got.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: You have the right mix of people. Beautiful mix of people.
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve moved a lot of them out, you know that.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Oh, they do a great job.
THE PRESIDENT: And we move them out, and a new group comes in because the laws are no good. The laws are no good. The people we have — these people are the best.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: This guy never stops. He never stops, I tell you.
THE PRESIDENT: But the laws are no good. If you had the right laws, your job would be 100 percent easier, Angel. You agree with that?
MR. MELENDEZ: Yes. Yes, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Then we’re going to get them for you. One way or the other, we’re going to get them.
REPRESENTATIVE COMSTOCK: Well, I have a law that we have already passed in the House. Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for the opportunity to work on this. I know this is included in some of the other legislation, but we did already pass in the House the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, thanks to a lot of people here around the table, and thanks to the support from Homeland Security and Justice.
And we had bipartisan support for that bill (inaudible), and we had over a dozen — I think a dozen or so Democrats on board, and I think we already have some Democrat senators who indicated they would support that. And that would make being a gang member a deportable offense.
So I would certainly encourage our senators to get that on — quickly. And then we’ve also — the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force that I have in my area, we have seen great success when they were funded to where they need to be funded, because they could assist — they work with ICE. I was able to go out in a ride-along last summer with ICE and with our local law enforcement. We picked up four gang members in Loudoun County and Fairfax County, just on a Friday night. A 22-year-old gang member that we just picked up at a shopping center as people were going by with strollers and kids. And he had been deported twice. He had been in jail for killing a teenager in El Salvador, and had come back here.
Some of the technology they have, and if we fully fund the gang task forces, we could just take his thumb, put it on, like, an iPad that they had, and we immediately could see his criminal record. So that night when we picked him — ICE picked him up — (laughter) — we were (inaudible) watching — they immediately put him in their car. They asked him to lift up his shirt. Covered with gang tattoos. He put his thumb on that iPad, and we saw his whole record.
And so I asked our ICE agents who were there, and local, “How many of these do you have?” They said, “We only have two of these.” These aren’t expensive items. If we can get this $50 million that have actually already gone through the Judiciary Committee, bipartisan support — everybody, all the Democrats and Republicans supported it — then we can get that in place.
Those two pieces of legislation will be a big help in addition to other things my colleagues are working on. And I would implore, since I am just over the river and live right by the CIA, and Sheriff Chapman is sheriff of my largest county, we don’t need a government shutdown on this. We really do — I think both sides have learned that a government shutdown was bad. It wasn’t good for them. And we do have bipartisan support on these things. And I think we need to talk about these cases that are going on.
We’ve had over eight or so — I mean, The Washington Post has done some actual great reporting. These are all stories about gang killers recorded a teen’s final moments. People here live in fear just seven miles from the White House. They’ve been covering this. And people know, on a bipartisan basis, this problem. And we can —
THE PRESIDENT: But, Barbara, we are not getting support from the Democrats. I mean, you can say what you want. We’re not getting support from the Democrats. This legislation —
REPRESENTATIVE COMSTOCK: I think if you put this bill up in the Senate, you will see a lot of —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ll see. That’s one bill. But we have to get that. They are not supporting us.
REPRESENTATIVE COMSTOCK: And that would allow the Secretary to be able to stop them at the border, and if they’re here, get them out quickly, and have that alone be the deportable offense.
THE PRESIDENT: Excellent. Lee.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: Well, Mr. President, thank you. It’s not just awareness that you and your administration have towards the issue that we’re facing in Suffolk County on Long Island, but you have proven that you will do absolutely everything in your power to address a very personal issue for us.
Last year, we had one woman in Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island, who was murdered, allegedly, by a person who was an illegal immigrant, removed from our country, and returned again. And we’re just hearing the story of the Indianapolis Colt player who was murdered — who was killed as well in the crash.
It’s a matter of physical security, quality of life. It’s a top priority for us. And you are going to do everything in your power, and we appreciate it.
Just last week, a schoolboard in my district was forced to take action against its own town for $10.5 million in costs incurred due to massive overcrowding in local schools. Last year, 498 motel rooms in Hampton Bays were occupied by illegal immigrants who use this housing year round. Residents have asked the town of South Hampton to enforce the town’s safety codes and force the motel owners to comply with local law enforcement. And in Hampton Bays — as a result, years later, of one year after another of South Hampton town not doing the right thing with code enforcement — MS-13 is committing heinous crimes in Hampton Bays, in the town of South Hampton. And we hear in the news when the horrific murder that took place of four constituents — two from my district, two from Pete’s district — with machetes; that the crimes that we don’t read about, where murder doesn’t take place, where the human trafficking, and the sex trafficking, and the drug trafficking, is also important in your focus.
And a great appointment in Rich Donoghue, with the new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, a former 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper. And we’re excited because he cares deeply about combatting this MS-13.
Chain migration, visa lottery, temporary protected status, all these issues that we’re talking about, having a border wall, making sure it’s funded. Temporary protected status — temporary — why is it that 16 years later someone would be in our country under something called, “temporary protected status”? It proves that something is wrong with our immigration system.
We’re talking about unaccompanied minors. In that Central American country where that parent chooses to turn their kid over for a dangerous mission to the United States, and along that journey, maybe before they get to the border, we hear these stories in Yaphank Correctional Facility held at gunpoint. They had to smuggle narcotics across the border if they want to complete their mission.
They are — the entire process, from the moment their parents turn them over to when they end up, say, in Brentwood, they’re completely set up for failure. And America is a compassionate country. We have compassion for every child who’s living in poverty, oppression, gang violence, anywhere in the world. But we don’t have the bandwidth for every parent to turn their kids over for this mission and to come to our country.
And one other thing that I know that you deeply believe and you’re passionate about is that the American Dream and hope, and opportunity, and everything that we want for people who come to our country, believing in American exceptionalism, that this is the greatest country in the world — what about the person who’s not here yet because they went to their local consulate and they said, “I want to pursue the American Dream for my family”? And because they’re following the rules, that they should wait in line behind the people who violated them is absolutely wrong.
The project Safe Neighborhoods was brought up. This is an important initiative for our country as well. $500,000 — it was amazing how far $500,000 went in Suffolk County to support our local law enforcement.
You also helped secure, through DOJ, the designate of MS-13 as a target of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. It’s a nationwide effort that utilizes the resources and expertise of our leading law enforcement agencies to disrupt and dismantle major drug traffickers, the way that they’re getting a lot of their money.
And last congress, Congress also reauthorized money for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant program with bipartisan support. And to echo one other point that was just mentioned: If someone is applying for status and they are a gang member and they get naturalization, and for whatever reason it was not known that they committed a serious offense and they’re involved in gang activity, they should lose their naturalization if they were not honest in their application process.
And if it’s two years later or seven years later, even if they were completely honest on their application that they hadn’t committed offenses in the past, if five years later they’re involved in a gang and they commit a serious offense, well, then take away their naturalization. Because there’s a duty when you’re here, if you’re given the opportunity to stay, to be productive citizens and members of our great country.
And once again, thank you on behalf of a region of our country that desperately needed your leadership. We know that we have it. We know that you have our back.
THE PRESIDENT: I do.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: And thank you, deeply.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Lee.
REPRESENTATIVE MCSALLY: Sir, thanks for the opportunity to be here, and thanks for your leadership in raising awareness on this dangerous gang and our broken immigration system and our failed border polices of the past.
I represent a southern border district. I’m also the Chair of the Subcommittee on Border Maritime Security. These gangs are trafficking through communities like mine. Ranchers, border residents are having to deal every single day with the threat of gangs and other criminal organizations coming straight through their property, right around their families, endangering the lives as they’re trafficking through.
This is very real for the people that I represent. And I appreciate your leadership on these issues. We have got to secure our border. That includes, as you know, a strong border wall system and everything that our agents need in order to be able to secure our border. But as everyone has brought up today as well, if we perfectly seal the border and we don’t close these loopholes, then these dangerous criminal organizations are going to continue to take advantage of us.
In my community, the Border Patrol agents that I represent, they are telling these stories daily where they’re not evading Border Patrol; they’re looking for Border Patrol. They turn themselves in to Border Patrol, and then they take advantage of the fact that they can’t be turned around; that they make false asylum claims that the cartels have told them exactly what to say in order to make that false claim. If they’re an unaccompanied minor, other than from Mexico or Canada, they are then released quickly into the interior of the United States. We can’t do anything about it. Most of them don’t show up for their court dates in the future. And they are continuing — the criminal organizations are profiting off taking advantage of these loopholes in our system.
So our bill — Chairman McCaul, myself, Chairman Goodlatte, and Labrador — we address these issues and your priorities. And we’re gaining traction in the House on people getting behind our bill. It’s common sense. It also includes the inadmissibility and closing that loophole — that bill that we’ve already passed through the House.
We believe this is the right piece of legislation to address your priorities and get it across the finish line. Who could be against this? We have got to address these issues. This is not a game. This is serious business. And I really appreciate your leadership and your whole team raising awareness.
Daily, people’s lives are in danger, as you’re out there, going after these guys. But we’ve got to stop them where I live, at the border. And that includes the border security and closing these ridiculous loopholes that’s in our legislation. So we’re going to tirelessly work with you, Mr. President, to get this done. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Martha, very much.
And I just looked at the Secretary — I said, “Did you take care of every one of these loopholes? Because we’re not going to have a second chance.”
SECRETARY NIELSEN: I agree.
THE PRESIDENT: We got one chance. We don’t want to do a half-baked job.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: No.
THE PRESIDENT: And you got one chance. So, Secretary, get it right. (Laughter.) Get it right. We’re going to go through hell to get this stuff approved. Peter, and Michael, and Lee, and Barbara, Martha, we’re going to get it approved. We have no choice. It’s not like we have a choice. It’s really — it’s common sense, but it’s much above common sense.
So you have to have every one of these loopholes taken care of —
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: — so we don’t have to go through this anymore.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: I agree.
THE PRESIDENT: Because no one else is going to be able to get it done. Okay?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: No, just under you.
THE PRESIDENT: And I just want to thank everybody very much for being here, friends and talented people. And if we put our heads together, we’re going to solve this problem. And with all that was said, we’re doing much better than any administration by far — by far. Nobody has even come close. But still, we have a long way to go. We can only be as good as the law.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: That’s right.
THE PRESIDENT: Because right now, we want to do things, and it’s, “Well, there’s a law against this. There’s a law against that. There’s a law against everything.” And we have people coming into the country, you can’t get them out, and it’s ridiculous. Nobody even believes it.
So we have one good shot at it and it’s now.
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: And hopefully you get it done, okay?
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Q Sir, do you get the sense that there will be a shutdown given the differences over this issue?
THE PRESIDENT: I would shut it down over this issue. I can’t speak for everybody at the table, but I will tell you, I would shut it down over this issue. If we don’t straighten out our border, we don’t have a country. Without borders, we don’t have a country.
So would I shut it down over this issue? Yes. I can’t speak for our great representatives here, but I have a feeling they may agree with me. Okay? Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EST