Department of Justice Seal

Remarks* of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson
INS Commissioner's Conference
Argent Hotel
San Francisco, California
March 12, 2002

      Good afternoon. I'm delighted and honored to have been asked to address the annual INS Commissioner's Conference. Thank you personally for your hard work and dedication. Let me express the AG's and my appreciation for your willingness to be a centerpiece of the Department's efforts to combat terrorism. Deputy Commissioner Mike Beecraft -- You'll find a lot of hard working, good people at INS. You exemplify the BEST in public service and I again thank you.

     The Immigration and Naturalization Service is charged with one of the most complex and far-reaching missions within not just the Justice Department--but the entire Federal government. It is also one of the most critical missions for the future of our country, and how you carry it out will go a long way in determining the progress and nature of the development of our nation in the 21st century. To some people, this may have sounded like hyperbole before September 11th; today, all Americans recognize it as fact.

     We are gathered here after six of the most difficult - and most inspiring - months in our nation's history. The shockwaves from the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon continue to reverberate, and they will do so for some time. That's because it is difficult to understand how the values that we hold so dear could be so deeply despised that they would cause such heinous acts. In fact, it's unthinkable. But, as President Bush noted in his first address to the nation after September 11th, "America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."

     The terrorists responsible for this assault expected the United States would implode like the buildings they attacked. It didn't, and never will, and we all know why: They underestimated both the strength of the principles and ideals that are the foundation of our great nation and the determination of the American people to defend them. The extraordinary resolve demonstrated in the face of these horrific acts was truly inspiring, and made it easier to move on and meet the challenge of returning to our normal lives.

     Throughout the Department, people pulled together in a manner that few people, if anyone, ever thought possible. They have been working extended hours that require enormous sacrifices, none bigger than not being able to spend time with your family and friends and draw strength from the comfort they provide. Their extraordinary sense of purpose and steadfast determination has allowed them to work beyond the point of exhaustion, and still perform admirably in dealing with matters of great sensitivity and even greater urgency.

     I have heard a lot about INS's outstanding efforts, and I have seen the impressive results you are producing. Since September 11th, special agents, intelligence analysts, detention officers, and others have worked closely with FBI-led counterterrorism task forces to track down and apprehend those responsible for the attacks. They have generated, and pursued, thousands of leads, resulting in the arrest of more than 700 aliens for a variety of administrative and criminal charges. These agents have also been working with officials from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control to identify and freeze the assets of terrorist organizations and their front groups. INS detention and deportation officers and attorneys have played a critical role in supporting the nationwide enforcement effort.

     Border Patrol agents and immigration inspectors have been working just as diligently to strengthen security at our ports and along our borders. As part of its work, the Border Patrol convened the first Native American Security Conference. This event brought together leaders and law enforcement officials from 19 tribes whose lands are adjacent to our borders with representatives of the Border Patrol, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other agencies to bind together and address their mutual interest in establishing more secure borders.

     Of course, all these efforts aimed at bringing to justice those responsible for the events of September 11th, and to prevent further terrorist attacks, are being backed by technical support specialists and other operational and administrative staff. And they are as deeply dedicated to succeeding as everyone else.

     I am grateful for what you are doing, and I can assure you that the Attorney General is as well. We are also grateful for the work done by those still assigned to carrying out the INS' routine responsibilities. The considerable amount of time, energy, and resources being spent to track down terrorists and to strengthen homeland security, means that you have to had to do more with less. Even so, you've been producing truly impressive results, in both enforcement and services.

     Three weeks ago, immigration inspectors at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, seized 1,555 pounds of cocaine and 2,058 pounds of marijuana, valued at a total of $51.4 million, that were hidden in a Mexican tour bus. And just last Wednesday, Border Patrol agents from the Yuma Sector's Anti-Smuggling Unit apprehended 55 undocumented immigrants discovered hidden in a load of lettuce in a refrigerated tractor-trailer that they had under surveillance.

     Although they probably don't realize it, these men were very lucky to be found. Smugglers always put profits before people, and to collect their fees, they frequently subject their "clients" to deplorable treatment that is nothing short of modern-day slavery. Fortunately, we now have a new tool to protect the most vulnerable victims and to prevent future human trafficking: the T visa, which allows victims of severe forms of trafficking to stay in the United States and assist federal authorities in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. This powerful tool wouldn't be at our disposal, however, if it weren't for the recent hard work of your Office of General Counsel and Investigations Unit.

     At the same time that INS is working diligently to thwart terrorists, drug-traffickers, human smugglers and other isolated individuals who are intent on tearing us down, you are also assisting the many more people who are eager for an opportunity to join us in building up America. These people share the ideals and principles that are the foundation of our nation, and you are enormously privileged to be charged with guarding the cornerstone of that foundation: citizenship. The fact that you managed to cut the national average processing time for naturalizations applications by more than half over the past three years proves beyond any doubt that you recognize this.

     INS also keeps the nation strong by helping maintain our globally celebrated -- and unmatched -- commitment to protecting the persecuted and the oppressed seeking to escape political or religious repression, and others fleeing the ravages of war or environmental destruction. Just since September 11th, you have extended temporary protected status to nationals of Angola and Somalia for an additional year. Even more important in upholding our great tradition of offering a safe haven to those "yearning to breathe free," is the Office of International Affairs-led effort to ensure that everything possible is done to reach the President's goal of admitting 70,000 refugees this fiscal year.

     I fully recognize that the achievements I've touched on barely scratch the surface of INS' success. I applaud Commissioner Ziglar for providing the leadership and vision and Congress for backing the agency with needed resources. The most important contributions, however, have come from you. No amount of resources or strategic planning could have produced the results INS has achieved without the dedication, integrity, professionalism and pride you bring to the job every day.

     It is also clear to me that you are not content with what you have already accomplished. One look at the conference agenda told me that. The topics you will be discussing over the next three days -- homeland security, restructuring, core values, and change management -- are substantive issues directly linked to improved performance. By participating fully in this conference - sharing your expertise and your experience - you will prepare INS to bring even greater honor to the Department and the nation. We are on the right track-BUT DON'T BE COMPLACENT. As Will Rogers said: Even if you are on the right track, you will eventually be hit if you just sit there. You are not going to just sit there, and I look forward to working with you in your continued successful efforts. Thank you.

     It is now my privilege to present the Newton-Azrak Award. This award is named in tribute to Theodore L. Newton, Jr., and George P. Azrak, two Border Patrol inspectors who were kidnapped and murdered by drug-traffickers while working at a California highway checkpoint in June 1967. It honors the memories of the many INS officers who have given their lives in the line of duty, and is presented for services or accomplishments reflecting unusual courage or bravery in the line of duty, and/or a heroic or humane act in an emergency or during times of extreme stress.

     This year's award winner is former Senior Border Patrol Agent Benjamin Sanford, who recently left INS to become a federal air marshal. On April 2 of last year, Agent Sanford was patrolling a stretch of the All American Canal, near Calexico, California, monitoring the border fence for people attempting to enter the country illegally from Mexico. It had been a rather quiet shift, when the calm was suddenly shattered. A concerned citizen frantically approached him to report that a car had just plummeted into the canal.

     Agent Sanford immediately called his colleagues at the Calexico Station for assistance, then drove to the crash site. When he arrived at the scene, he saw a partially submerged car and a woman flailing in a fight against the swift currents. Realizing he couldn't wait for help to arrive -- and giving little regard to his own well-being -- he dived into the water, swam to the woman, and dragged her to shore. His heroic actions saved her from certain death.

     Ladies and gentlemen, Benjamin Sanford.

*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.