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  6. Remarks as Prepared by Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf Highlighting Border Security and Immigration Policies of the Trump Administration

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Remarks as Prepared by Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf Highlighting Border Security and Immigration Policies of the Trump Administration

Release Date: October 22, 2020

Thank you, Sheriff Dannels. I want to thank you for your ongoing partnership with the Department and your willingness to serve on my Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Good morning everyone.

I would like to thank the Arizona Sheriff’s Association for inviting me and hosting this event today. You all have been critical partners in our shared homeland security mission, particularly in the areas of immigration, border security, and upholding law and order.

I look forward to our roundtable and discussion following these remarks.

At the Department we deal with many issues that impact national security. While I’m here today to discuss border security and immigration, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch upon our announcement last night regarding election security. As the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI announced last night, foreign adversaries are intent on trying to influence our elections. But make no mistake, the federal government is united in ensuring that American Voters decide American Elections, and that all Americans can be confident that their vote will count.

The Department of Homeland Security has a long history of working closely with sheriffs across the board—from the National Sheriffs’ Association to the Southwestern Border Sheriffs’ Coalition. You all have stood by us and we are proud to stand with you in defense of our Homeland and in support of our shared mission.

These are dangerous times to be a law enforcement officer, and I just want to thank all of our law enforcement personnel—federal, state and local—for their hard work. No matter the challenges thrown at us, together we have risen to the occasion.  The President, the Vice President, and I could not be prouder of you and of our partnership. 

As we all are aware, just two days ago, an alien who entered our country illegally, and who has a criminal record, shot and killed 65-year-old Houston Police Department Sergeant Harold Preston and injured his colleague, Officer Courtney Waller.  Please join me in keeping Sergeant Preston’s family and Officer Waller and his family in our thoughts and prayers.

This tragedy should have never happened. I, along with the men and women of the Department, will continue to fight to stop these senseless acts of violence.

Four years ago, President Trump was elected with a mandate from the American people: secure our borders, fix our broken immigration system, and keep Americans safe by upholding the rule of law.  

Because you and the American people have stood by us, we have not failed—and we never will. The Department of Homeland Security will continue to deliver for you and the American people.

While we have achieved much, we are also poised to accomplish much more.

Today, I will walk through how this Administration is taking decisive action to support our law enforcement officers and keep American communities safe.

I have always made clear that the Department will never turn its back on protecting American communities, property, lives, and the rule of law.

As we saw with alarm and disbelief this year, violent anarchists, violent opportunists, and criminals set fire to our communities, killed innocent people, assailed private property, and targeted our law enforcement officers.  In communities like Portland, Seattle, and other cities, we have seen nightly violence perpetrated against law enforcement. This constant assault against those who protect us cannot and will not stand.

And we must not forget that citizens of these communities are also suffering. This violence has wreaked havoc on their local economies and honest, hardworking Americans just want to get back to work. But when local leaders put politics over public safety, no one wins.

DHS will always defend Americans exercising their right to peacefully protest. But those who seek to undermine our democratic institutions, indiscriminately destroy businesses, and attack law enforcement officers and fellow citizens, are a threat to our Homeland and our values, and we must take action.

The Department will always have the backs of our law enforcement officers, hardworking patriots who protect honest, law-abiding Americans from violent criminals.  Together, we will protect America from those who wish to destroy our cities, our communities, and our way of life.  

While the Department is committed to protecting the Homeland in its interior, we are equally focused on threats emanating from outside our borders.

This Administration inherited a broken and outdated border security and immigration system. And while we tried to work with Congress early on to address funding and loopholes that incentivize illegal behavior, we have received little to no help over the last several years.

So, we rolled up our sleeves, looked at the authorities given to us by previous Congresses and got to work reforming our border system in a manner that addresses today’s threats and today’s environment.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of any sovereign nation is to know exactly who is entering their country and for what purpose.

The United States is the world’s most generous and welcoming country, but, unfortunately, there are evil people who seek to travel to the United States with the intent of harming and killing Americans.

Despite the progress we have made since 9/11, we remain heavily dependent on the paperwork and documentation of a prospective traveler.

That is why the Department, along with our interagency partners, developed a process for evaluating the information sharing cooperation, identity management practices and travel related risk associated with each country in the world.

We identified the lowest performing countries, put them on notice; and for those unable or unwilling to meet our standards, we issued commonsense travel restrictions.

Because of this process, we saw multiple countries begin sharing information with us that they had never done before. I am proud of the work the Department has done to raise the security baseline around the world.

This Administration has also secured unprecedented cooperation with partners like Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries to stem the flow of illegal immigration. 

The Department has signed historic Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to reduce the incentive to travel north by improving access to asylum protections as close to home as possible.  We have also solidified border security agreements with these countries to collaborate in disrupting and dismantling cartels responsible for human trafficking and drug smuggling. 

Together, DHS and our foreign partners are developing a safer and more prosperous region so that Central Americans can feel confident in creating futures in their home countries, rather than putting their lives in the hands of smugglers and criminal organizations to make the dangerous journey to the U.S.

In 2019, President Trump also reached a groundbreaking agreement with the Government of Mexico to accelerate its efforts along known migration routes, and we continue to collaborate with Mexico to reduce illegal crossings. 

Each of these actions and historic diplomatic achievements is creating a safer border, safer communities, and safer neighborhoods in which Americans can live.

Turning to our Southwest border, between 2017 through 2019, we saw a record number of illegal aliens entering our country largely for economic reasons, as we do still today. Remember, it was just a short time ago in 2019 that we recorded several months when over 100,000 illegal aliens crossed our borders and were released into our communities. Many of you here today were on the frontlines of that crisis.

And while the Trump Administration took decisive action, and the numbers dropped in late 2019 and early 2020, today the numbers are increasing again.  If the trend holds, October could be one of the highest months for illegal crossings in some time.

The only reason today’s crossings have not reached a crisis level is because of the policies and procedures the Department has put in place during the past four years.  If these critical tools are removed or overturned, then the Department—and you, our frontline partners—would be imperiled by another immigration crisis.

And, perhaps worst of all, you would be addressing this crisis with significantly less tools in your arsenal.

The threats posed to the Homeland come in many different forms. When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, this Administration put Americans first. The president took bold and decisive action to immediately ban flights from COVID-19 hotspots around the world, including China.

We also worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement their order to prohibit the introduction of illegal border crossers during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Holding illegal aliens in congregate settings would have been a public-health catastrophe of historical proportions. 

Because of this order, CBP is returning approximately 90% of individuals who would otherwise be kept in CBP facilities back to Mexico within 2 hours. The Administration’s preventative measure protected DHS frontline employees, individuals in our custody, and the American public—thereby preventing a potential disaster along the border. 

CBP’s enforcement encounters with illegal border crossers were reduced by over half in Fiscal Year 2020 from the previous year. 

In addition, in partnership with our allies, the Department restricted non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada-Mexico borders to stop the spread of COVID-19.  We saw an immediate and significant drop in overall travel back and forth across our land borders, further mitigating possible COVID transmission.  In a matter of weeks, passenger volumes along the Southwest Border dropped 62%—all while we have kept trade lanes open and commercial activities flowing. 

As it makes sense, DHS and CBP will ease travel restrictions in a regionally-tailored manner in order to balance public health considerations with the need to support economic recovery.

These measures are absolutely necessary to safeguard public health in our country.

Immigration experts predict an increasing number of aliens will journey to our borders in the near future as a result of the devastation the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to Latin America.  Should our critics be successful and repeal the CDC order, we would face an unimaginable public health crisis.

To appreciate how far we have come, it is appropriate to note that DHS has rejected prior policies that shackled U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to enforce our immigration laws.  Among the worst was the “prosecutorial discretion” policy—compelling the Department to let our laws be violated with impunity by illegal aliens. This devastating policy hamstrung ICE’s ability to identify, locate, arrest, and deport criminal aliens. Today, ICE no longer exempts any removable aliens from having our laws enforced on them. If you break our laws, you will be arrested and removed from our country.

The results bear out the success of this policy shift.  Between 2017 and 2019, the Trump Administration removed from the United States more than 574,000 illegal aliens, including 16,000 gang members.

While we are still finalizing our FY2020 numbers, I can report that as of September 19, 2020, ICE has removed over 182,000 aliens including 4,000 that were known or suspected gang members, many of which were located in so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.”

As sanctuary jurisdictions continue to proliferate at an alarming rate, it is imperative that ICE continues to operate with maximum flexibility in order to enforce our laws and keep America safe. This is a top priority for the Department.

The Department has also ensured that certain aliens encountered anywhere in the country within two years of unlawful entry will be removed quickly—referred to as “expedited removal.”  Congress has empowered DHS to exercise its expedited-removal authority to remedy the national security and humanitarian crisis on the Southwest border and indeed nationwide.   And, just a few months ago, the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality.

The message to current and prospective illegal aliens and their enablers is that if you enter our country by breaking our laws, we will rapidly remove you. This law was passed by Congress decades ago, and we will execute faithfully the laws as written.

The Department has also increased interior enforcement efforts using a whole-of-government approach. We restored information-sharing programs with state and local partners, including the Safe Communities program, to identify and remove criminal aliens, all of which has led to more removals of criminal aliens.

The Department has added new avenues for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate in immigration enforcement, including the Warrant Service Officer program.  We have also partnered with Department of Justice to increase prosecutions of criminal aliens and those committing immigration fraud. 

Moreover, we have begun issuing subpoenas in sanctuary jurisdictions to obtain critical information to locate, arrest, detain, and remove criminal aliens.

But that is only part of our border security achievements.

Under this Administration, we have effectively ended the practice known as “catch and release,” which refers to releasing illegal aliens into the United States while they awaited hearings in immigration court—rather than holding them in detention. Thanks to our actions, illegal aliens will no longer be released into our country.  They will no longer be able to abscond without consequence.  And they will be quickly returned to their country of origin. 

The statistics tell the story of our success: in Fiscal Year 2019, CBP was forced to release over 230,000 aliens, or 27% of those we apprehended.  Compare that to Fiscal Year 2020 with only about 1,000 individuals released, or a half a percent of our apprehensions. 

Likewise, ICE saw a dramatic reduction in aliens it released: from nearly 177,000 individuals in Fiscal Year 2019 to just 14,000 in Fiscal Year 2020, a remarkable 92% decrease. And the majority of the 14,000 released were for humanitarian factors.

In addition, the Migrant Protection Protocols—or MPP— launched in 2018 ensures that aliens entering or seeking admission to the United States from Mexico—illegally or without proper documentation—will be returned to Mexico and required to wait outside of the United States for the duration of their immigration proceedings.  Under this process, more than 65,000 aliens have been returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings.  This process helps promote a safer and more orderly process along the Southwest border, discourages individuals from making meritless asylum claims, and enables quick immigration results. 

MPP, which is authorized by a law enacted by a bipartisan Congress, increases the integrity of the U.S. immigration system.  It does so by ensuring that individuals have the opportunity to proceed efficiently through U.S. immigration court processes—while observing all of the important procedural protections and without permitting those same individuals to disappear into the interior of the United States.  

Through MPP, the United States has afforded due process, and we are constantly looking to further enhance and improve this program in order to ensure safe and lawful migration, while deterring smugglers and traffickers.  MPP has been one of the most important and effective tools we have implemented to confront the crisis on the border and we will continue to strengthen and expand it.

However, our critics want to dismantle MPP. They say Mexico is not committed to providing meaningful humanitarian protections for individuals in MPP.  In reality, however, we work closely with the Mexican Government, which continues to express its commitment to provide the aliens with access to appropriate protections for the duration of their stay, including access to employment, education, and healthcare.

Critics say that migrant claims are not being adjudicated as rapidly as they should be under MPP.  In reality, however, migrant claims are efficiently heard and adjudicated and any migrant who expresses a fear of returning to Mexico, at any point in the process, is immediately referred to USCIS before proceeding with further actions. 

To date, USCIS has conducted nearly 19,000 fear-claim screenings for individuals in this program.  And immigration courts have already completed 67% of MPP cases and more than 520 individuals have been granted some form of relief.  This shows that the large majority of initial filings are unmeritorious and an attempt to manipulate the asylum system to circumvent the legal immigration system.

At the end of the day, MPP helps promote a safer and more orderly process along the Southwest border and discourages individuals from making non-meritorious or false asylum claims.

We are also securing our borders and restoring the rule of law by implementing major asylum reforms.

The Department has expanded pilot programs border-wide to fast-track the asylum review process for migrants at the U.S. border. We have made expedited removals actually fast and expeditious, just as Congress intended.

Through a system known as the Electronic Nationality Verification, DHS can now quickly remove major source countries’ nationals who do not have a credible fear of return.  As of October 13, 2020, ICE has removed almost 55,000 illegal aliens through the ENV program.  This has limited the amount of time in detention, limiting the spread of COVID-19 and saving tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary detention costs.

Today, I am happy to report that the Southwest border is more secure because this Administration ended “catch and release” and made these and other asylum reforms.  

This success requires steadfast leadership and the ability to evolve and refine procedures expeditiously. Our critics, who often go to court for nationwide injunctions, want to see a return to the past—where “catch and release” was commonplace and undermined public safety.

Individuals attempting to enter our country isn’t the only thing the Department must confront. The uptick of drug seizures should alarm all Americans. In the past four years, CBP has seized more than 4 million pounds of hard drugs like fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine, which is almost double the annualized amount of drugs seized between 2009 and 2017.  

Thanks to the Administration’s border achievements, our CBP colleagues are much more aware, much more capable, and better resourced in their mission to counter the influx of illegal drugs. These achievements have forced drug dealers and cartels to change their behavior, forcing them to go through our ports of entry where we have the advantage in being able to interdict them.

Due to our outdated immigration laws, the vetting process of aliens who present themselves at our borders under false pretenses was nominal and virtually non-existent. This was unacceptable.  We cannot let inadequately-vetted individuals into our country.   

That is why the Department has restored integrity to our broken immigration system by properly vetting those who present themselves at our borders under false pretenses. CBP and ICE launched the Family Fraud Initiative to identify adults who use children to fraudulently present themselves as families when making an asylum claim in order to be released into the United States.

Since its inception, this initiative has resulted in:

  • 238 fraudulent families identified;
  • 329 false documents that were used to support fraudulent claims;
  • More than 350 individuals federally prosecuted for various crimes, including human smuggling, making false statements, conspiracy, and illegal re-entry after removal;
  • And 50 individuals identified who have fraudulently claimed to be unaccompanied minors.

Each time the Department stops a fraudulent parent from entering the United States, it gives a once-exploited child a chance at a normal life.

This Administration has also closed legal loopholes in the flawed Flores settlement, named after a long-running federal case and its sequels.  

The Department’s regulation on this issue creates a national standard of care for alien children in DHS custody that prior administrations had simply failed to address—much less remedy.  Notably, this new regulation gives ICE the ability to maintain family unity by holding families with children in licensed facilities or facilities that meet ICE’s family residential standards, instead of being released into the United States.

But that is not all. We have created procedures to weed out fraudulent and meritless asylum claims. 

Our efforts in this space include:

  • Tightening up standards for asylum applicant employment authorization;
  • Elevating legal standards of proof for asylum and statutory withholding of removal screening; and
  • Instituting new mandatory bars to asylum. 

DHS also suspended asylum for individuals who traverse through a safe country where they could seek asylum but decided not to.  DHS is also currently finalizing regulations to prevent criminal aliens from obtaining asylum to remain in the United States.

A complete picture emerges. Everything DHS has done to restore integrity to our immigration system disincentivizes aliens from making false asylum claims and remaining in the United States without any consequence.  Put another way, we want to encourage meritorious asylum claims, adjudicate them expeditiously, and root out fraudulent claims.

Our work on the Southwest border stems in large part from new capabilities provided by the new Border Wall System.  Today, we have completed almost 400 miles of the new border wall system in high priority locations like San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley Sectors.  And we have another 221 miles currently under construction and 157 miles in a pre-construction phase.

Each and every mile of border wall construction is new—whether we are constructing in a place where previously no barriers existed or replacing a 5-foot steel vehicle barrier with an 18- or 30-foot steel bollard wall complemented with roads, enforcement cameras, and other related technology.  In fact, wherever effective border wall systems have been constructed, the number of illegal crossings—and crime—has gone down.  

Today, our Border Patrol agents have new capabilities they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. To our Border Patrol agents, the Border Wall System is an invaluable fixture that stands up to, and obstructs, even the most determined of smugglers and criminals. Deploying the Border Wall System in high priority areas, particularly urban areas where illegal border crossers can quickly vanish into the surrounding community, secures our border and protects American communities.

To aid in our effort to secure our border, more than 4,000 National Guard soldiers have been deployed from Department of Defense to the Southwest border. This assistance enables the Border Patrol to put officers on the front line to concentrate on border enforcement and to deter illegal border crossings.

Equally important to our national and economic security is our legal immigration system—the method in which aliens lawfully enter the US. From the beginning, this administration has had a laser focus on protecting the American worker.

But amazingly, the immigration rules on the books seemed to always put foreign workers first in line for American jobs. In a major historical shift, the Trump Administration has put America First.  Our results show the Department’s commitment and success in this area.

DHS has made key reforms to our legal immigration system in order to protect American workers while continuing to welcome these individuals.  We are proud to welcome these individuals because we have the world’s best opportunities drawing them to our shores. These individuals grow our economy, create jobs, and strengthen the country. This Administration has not lost focus on what our immigration system should look like—one that is fair, legal, and protects American interests.

To that end, DHS announced an interim final rule that strengthens the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program to protect U.S. workers, restores integrity to the H-1B program, and better guarantees that H-1B petitions are approved only for qualified beneficiaries and petitioners.  This rule will combat the abuse of H-1B workers to serve as low-cost replacements for otherwise-qualified American workers.  It will also deter companies from gaming the immigration system to fill their own coffers.

Supporting this action is President Trump’s philosophy that we must take care of Americans first. President Trump’s historic proclamation to protect American jobs is further evidence of this commitment. The proclamation uses Executive authority to temporarily pause the issuance of certain new non-immigrant work visas like H-1Bs until December 31, 2020, while directing various federal agencies to use all available tools to transition to a merit-based immigration system, ending often-exploited avenues for fraud and abuse of H1-B visas. 

The Department has also prohibited companies from laying off American workers in order to replace them with foreign nationals and has made new efforts to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining work permits.

We have created new guardrails to ensure that this framework thrives in practice.  Under the President’s leadership, DHS has created H-1B and H-2B fraud reporting tip lines to restore integrity to the temporary worker visa system.  Moreover, DHS is collaborating with the Department of Labor to protect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers by strengthening our ability to launch investigations of potential fraud and abuse in the H-1B visa program.

Further helping the once-forgotten man or woman who is forgotten no longer, the Department has modernized the investor visa program to encourage investment in the United States, especially in high-unemployment and rural areas.  We published a regulation designed to crack down on a notoriously fraud-ridden immigrant visa program for wealthy foreign investors. This helpful measure more closely aligns than anything that preceded it with Congress’ intent to benefit our economy and create jobs for American workers.

I’m incredibly proud of all the work the men and women of DHS have accomplished over the last several years.  At no time in our history has border security and immigration been so inextricably linked to national security.

Reversing course is no way forward. Decriminalizing illegal entry, stopping the deportation of criminal aliens, resuming catch and release, returning to a broken asylum system, dismantling the wall, walking away from landmark international agreements, and putting foreign workers first in line for American jobs is not the way to secure the Homeland. These are not just bad policies, they are dangerous. 

A system that puts criminals, illegal aliens, and foreign nationals first and Americans last is simply wrong.

Let me close by thanking you again for the invitation to highlight the incredible efforts the Department of Homeland Security is undertaking to protect our Homeland.  Every one of this Administration’s and DHS’s actions concerning law enforcement, immigration, and border security has been adopted with President Trump’s singular focus of putting Americans first. 

Just like you, many of DHS’s 240,000 dedicated professionals assume grave risks to their own safety and security in order to protect Americans’ safety and security. 

Law enforcement officers come in a variety of types and operate in diverse environments, but what you all share is a solemn duty to protect the American people.

You are heroes. And as we continue to face a wide array of challenges resulting from civil unrest, immigration, and border security, it is high time all Americans come together to support YOU.

I call on all political leaders across the country to recognize the critical role our law enforcement officers play in our society and stand with you—just as the Trump Administration and DHS do each and every day.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 07/27/2021
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