Thank you, Don. Good afternoon; it's a pleasure to be here. I am in Texas today, and I visited Arizona yesterday, to see for myself the enormous efforts of the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in protecting our border.
I also have the privilege to announce a substantial commitment of resources -- made available by the leadership of the President and Congress -- which will allow for the hiring of 64 new Assistant United States Attorney positions along the border, including 13 such positions here in the Southern District of Texas and 16 in the Western District of Texas, for a total of 29 overall.
Each of the five judicial districts along the border is receiving a substantial number of new prosecutor positions. The U.S. Attorneys in our border districts, including Don, will have substantial flexibility to devote these resources to the most pressing law enforcement needs. We anticipate that these attorneys will help target drug smugglers, gun runners, and various immigration violators, including human traffickers.
I was sworn in as Deputy Attorney General last month, and I wanted to get down here as soon as possible, because border issues are among the top priorities of the Department of Justice. As Attorney General Mukasey said recently: "The ability to control who—and what—comes into and out of a country is one of the most important attributes of a sovereign government, and being able to do that is vital to our nation’s security."
Earlier today I visited the port of entry here in Brownsville, where I met with some of the federal law enforcement officers working on the front line of this struggle. I was proud to meet them, and I was impressed by what I saw. The challenges being faced by those officers and other law enforcement personnel, by the prosecutors and staff of the U.S. Attorney's office, and by our partners at the state, and local level, are very complex, and they are doing an outstanding job.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the work being done here, the Rio Grande Sector, encompassing Brownsville and McAllen, apprehended more than 73,000 aliens in fiscal year 2007. That means by themselves they accounted for about eight percent of all aliens apprehended along the Southwest Border last year -- one out of every 12. And the Laredo sector accounted for another seven percent. That's a lot of cases; and it doesn't include all the marijuana seizures, or other felony cases along the border.
No one agency or department can do the job alone, and our efforts rely upon the strong partnerships we have with the Customs and Border Protection, and others. I salute the men and women who work so diligently to keep this state, and our nation, safe.
As I mentioned previously, today I am here with good news concerning a substantial dedication of federal law enforcement resources to our Southwest Border -- specifically $7 million for the five border districts, to support anti-narcotics, security and immigration enforcement efforts.
This money will fund 64 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 35 new contract support positions for the five border districts. But more than just numbers, these funds are a demonstration of the importance of border issues.
Congress appropriated this money because they recognize, as the Department does, the specific need to target border issues. In an effort to make the most of those dollars, we asked U.S. Attorneys, including Don DeGabrielle, to work with their law enforcement partners in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to strategically attack criminal activity on the border.
These are targeted resources, requested by each district, and they are emblematic of the Department's approach of a comprehensive but flexible strategy.
Those of us in Washington are well aware that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems faced on the border—what works in one district or sector may not work in another. And the most pressing needs in a District may change over time.
Law enforcement professionals here in Texas are the experts who know this area, and know what will work best here.
For the Southern District of Texas, that means an allocation of 13 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and seven additional support positions. That's a substantial increase from the current 150 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the district.
These funds will allow U.S. Attorney DeGabrielle to continue his efforts to protect the people of South Texas by prosecuting cases involving drug and gun smuggling, illegal entry and re-entry, and false documents.
The Western District of Texas will also receive 16 new Assistant U.S. Attorney positions for work there.
It means that misdemeanor prosecution programs like Operation Streamline can expand into additional areas along the Texas border, prosecute more people for illegal entry, and send the message that ignoring the border just got a whole lot riskier. The success of that operation is due in large part to the partnership and hard work of the US Border Patrol together with our U.S. Attorneys Offices; further evidence that we achieve our best results when we work together.
And the commitment of these resources means that we can boost our efforts against the traffic in illegal firearms heading south, a deadly trade that leads to more violence on both sides of the border. Our Project Gunrunner, led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, aims to deprive criminals of the weapons that threaten our communities. In this and other initiatives, the Department of Justice has been working closely with our Mexican counterparts to do all we can to stop smugglers.
The men and women of the Department of Justice, with our partners at all levels, and on both sides of the border, are doing a great job in tough conditions. Today, 64 new attorney positions are available to help them in their efforts.
On top of those funds, which are available immediately and for the next two years, the Department has requested in its fiscal year 2009 budget another $100 million to help fight criminal activity along the border as part of our Southwest Border Enforcement Initiative.
As I explained, Congress and the President have allowed the Department to dedicate these resources to our U.S. Attorneys Offices along the border. They will be applied to help combat very real issues, including drug trafficking, immigration violations, and gun trafficking.
Before concluding, I'd like to commend Ken Melson, the Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, who has helped to coordinate this allocation of resources in consultation with each of the five Southwest Border US Attorneys. Ken and all the U.S. Attorneys have done a great job.
I thank all the men and women of law enforcement for their hard work, and I'm glad to have the chance to bring them some much needed resources to help in their fight.
I'll be happy to take a few of your questions now.
QUESTION: How exactly are these new Assistant U.S. Attorneys going to help out – is this because cases are backed up, or are they going to investigate more cases, or how exactly… what are their roles going to be?
MR. FILIP: That’s a very good question. When these resources get allocated to districts from Washington, we very much and by design leave the question of how they will be used to the specific U.S. Attorney in each district. Part of the reason for that is that what works in one district may not work in another; needs change, particularly over time, even within a single district. So, U.S. Attorney DeGabrielle, just like his counterparts in other border districts will make those specific assessments. I’m sure he’d be happy to talk with you, as appropriate, after this conference.
But what I suspect he will tell you is there’s a set of what ultimately are reasonable assessments now, and six months from now that may change. It will, in an overall package, give us more resources to address investigations – often attorneys are involved in investigations, particularly complex ones that are going on. Prosecutions in court, as appropriate, if evidence is assembled that shows that we believe there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty.
It will play out over time, but the substantive areas that I think folks would typically focus on would be gun trafficking, the narcotics trafficking, and alien trafficking and immigration issues.
MR. FILIP: All right, well thank you all very, very much.
QUESTION: Is this something that will be implemented right away, or what’s the timeframe on this?
MR. FILIP: Well there’s a … the money’s available now. When we hire attorneys, we take that very, very seriously. And, in some respects, hiring an assistant U.S. attorney is as serious, or more serious, than anything we do. So, there will be a diligent effort to try to identify the best folks and to get them on board as soon as possible. But as far as an exact date, that will just play out over time.
MR. FILIP: Well … last Saturday, at a Little League game with one of my sons, and it was about 40 degrees. So it’s been a real pleasure to be here in south Texas. Thank you all very much.