Attorney General Prepared Remarks
[NOTE: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS] Long-term INS Detainees/Colorado Safe Neighborhoods Event July 19, 2001
I came here to discuss the administration's efforts to combat gun violence, but first I need to address how the Department of Justice is dealing with an emergency situation caused by a recent Supreme Court decision.
Absent prompt action on our part, that decision could result in the release of thousands of dangerous criminal aliens onto the streets of America over the next several months. Indeed, some courts are already beginning to order the release of such dangerous criminals.
Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government may not detain indefinitely, pending deportation, illegal aliens who have served out criminal sentences.
Ordinarily, criminal aliens convicted of serious crimes are deported after they have served their sentence. However, in some cases countries refuse to, or unreasonably delay, return of criminal aliens.
The result of the Supreme Court's ruling is that criminal aliens will be released from detention onto the streets of America simply because their countries of origin refuse to live up to their obligations to take them back under international law.
The Department of Justice believes these criminal aliens must be deported because their history of serious crime makes them a threat to our community. The Court's decision, combined with the refusal of some countries to respect their responsibilities to accept the return of these dangerous criminals, clearly presents a great challenge to our responsibility to ensure safety for the American people.
I am especially concerned that these criminal aliens may re-enter and prey upon immigrant communities within the United States. Many of these criminal aliens have extensive histories of brutal violent crime and pose a serious danger to society.
According to Immigration and Naturalization Service statistics there are nearly 3,400 criminal aliens who are or will be subject to release under the Court's order within the next three months. Among these criminal aliens are hundreds of sexual predators, including a rapist and serial child molester, hundreds of drug traffickers, and hundreds of violent criminals including murderers. According to INS statistics, these criminal aliens have 1,851 drug convictions, 772 convictions for assault, 387 convictions for sex offenses, 125 homicides and thousands of other convictions.
The Department of Justice and the INS are obligated to abide by the Supreme Court's ruling and to apply it to those aliens who are currently detained whenever the courts order such releases. For this reason the Department of Justice has developed the following plan of action to comply with the ruling and to minimize the risks to the public. The primary reason America is faced with this problem is the home countries of these aliens often delay the deportation process or refuse to take them back at all.
Our first priority will be to work with the State Department to request that the home countries of these criminal aliens live up to their international obligations and repatriate them. Most countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Brazil, Bolivia, and Mexico fulfill their obligations and take back criminal aliens. A relatively small number of countries either refuse or unreasonably delay doing so.
We owe it to the American people to make every effort to get these countries to live up to their obligations. We will pursue the full range of appropriate diplomatic measures.
Under U.S. law, the Attorney General has the authority to notify the U. S. Secretary of State when a foreign government refuses to or unreasonably delays accepting the return of a criminal alien from that country. Once that notification is provided, the Secretary of State is obligated to discontinue granting immigrant and /or non-immigrant visas to nationals of that country. This should be an enormous incentive for countries to take back their criminal aliens.
If necessary to protect the American people, I will not hesitate to exercise my responsibility under this statute to identify countries which repeatedly and wantonly violate international law. Despite our best efforts to repatriate these criminal aliens, we recognize that some countries may continue to refuse or delay in fulfilling their obligations to take these individuals back.
Therefore, I am directing the Department of Justice to take a number of steps to ensure that dangerous aliens are not released to the public as a result of the Court's decision. These measures include steps the Department of Justice can take unilaterally and in coordination with state and local authorities.
First, some of these criminal aliens have additional state or local sentences which they have not yet served. The Department will work closely with the state and local authorities to determine if any of these criminal aliens can be returned to state or local custody.
Second, some of these aliens may be subject to additional criminal charges. I have instructed U.S. Attorneys to bring additional federal charges where appropriate. We will work closely with our state and local counterparts to ensure that any appropriate state or local charges are filed.
Third, we are also developing procedures to continue to detain aliens where special circumstances may justify continued detention even if their prompt removal is not likely. This includes special risks such as terrorists and especially dangerous criminals. The Supreme Court suggested that such detention might be appropriate in special circumstances.
I have directed the INS to issue appropriate regulations as quickly as possible, and in the interim I am ordering implementation of such procedures by memorandum. That memorandum will be submitted to and published in the Federal Register.
Fourth, we are developing procedures which will maximize our ability to continue to hold criminal aliens while our diplomatic efforts are underway. These procedures will give the INS, in consultation with the State Department, an opportunity to evaluate the likelihood of repatriation, prior to any decision to release an individual.
Again, I have directed the INS to issue appropriate regulations as quickly as possible, and in the interim I am ordering implementation of such procedures by memorandum. Finally, if we are unable to repatriate the individuals or to continue to hold them, we are developing conditions governing their release which will maximize public protection and permit us to return them to detention if the criminal aliens violate those conditions.
Conditions may include reporting requirements, limitations on certain activities, registration requirements for certain categories of individuals and others. Again, I have directed the INS to issue appropriate regulations as quickly as possible, and in the interim I am ordering implementation of such procedures by memorandum.
These criminal aliens never had a legal right to be in the United States or forfeited that right by their own criminal conduct. They have been afforded complete due process and have been ordered deported. I believe we owe it to the American public to take every step necessary to avoid releasing these dangerous criminal aliens onto our streets.
I believe these emergency steps the Department of Justice is taking are reasonable and responsible to protect the American public. The guiding principle for what I have just described is public safety. I have the opportunity while here in Denver to recognize a local program and announce a federal initiative, both focused on protecting the public from gun violence.
I recently had the honor of joining with President Bush to announce an unprecedented partnership between local, state and federal government to reduce gun violence in America.
Today, it is my privilege to announce that the Department of Justice is taking an important step to strengthen and solidify such a partnership right here in Colorado.
The United States is a nation plagued by unacceptable levels of gun violence. In America today, a teenager is more likely to die from a gunshot than from all natural causes of death combined.
We all have a moral obligation to see that this carnage ends. We have, as well, a legal obligation to enforce the law.
Federal law makes it a felony for convicted felons and other dangerous persons even to possess a gun. America has good, strong gun laws on the books. When gun laws are enforced, two things happen: First, gun criminals serve real time. Second, the word goes out into the community that offenders can and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Both of these things are happening here in Colorado with Colorado Project Exile, a cooperative effort among local law enforcement, state officials and the federal government to fight gun violence.
Since this partnership was begun in September 1999, Colorado Project Exile has brought charges against 265 individuals for gun law violations. Of the cases that have been resolved, the conviction rate is almost 90 percent. And the average sentence received by gun criminals prosecuted under Colorado Project Exile is over four years in prison.
Just yesterday a Colorado jury returned a guilty verdict against a Denver woman who was indicted in April for possession of a firearm. Because the woman had three prior felony convictions, she was prosecuted under Colorado Project Exile as an armed career criminal.
Thanks to cooperation between the Denver police and federal authorities, the woman faces 15 years to life in prison for her gun crime. President's Bush's initiative to reduce gun violence, called Project Safe Neighborhoods, incorporates and builds on the success of innovative programs like Colorado Project Exile.
Our goal is not to come in and federalize all gun prosecution - quite the opposite. The objective of Project Safe Neighborhoods is to provide new resources and unprecedented cooperation between all levels of law enforcement.
As part of this initiative -- and in the spirit of cooperation and partnership it embodies -- I have the privilege to announce today that the federal district of Colorado will receive a new federal prosecutor dedicated exclusively to prosecuting firearms violations.
According to the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, this represents more than a 33 percent increase in manpower devoted to gun prosecutions in Colorado.
Colorado's new prosecutor is part of a commitment of federal resources to enforce our gun laws. Project Safe Neighborhoods devotes more than $550 million over the next two years to fight gun violence. Over $15 million in funding will go to provide 113 new assistant United States Attorneys to serve as full-time gun prosecutors.
Another $75 million is set aside for new state and local gun prosecutors to work in partnership with federal law enforcement authorities. These are tough prosecutors determined to enforce the law, including the federal law that makes it a felony for convicted felons and other dangerous people to lie about their records in attempting to buy a gun.
I have directed all U.S. attorneys to prosecute to the fullest extent practicable those who attempt to purchase a gun illegally. "Lie and buy" is against the law, and I am determined that the law be enforced.
Project Safe Neighborhoods looks for five key elements in state and local gun prosecution efforts:
partnership between local, state and federal authorities
a strategic plan to attack gun violence
training of officers and prosecutors in firearms enforcement
outreach to the community to increase awareness and deterrence, and
accountability for results.
Each U.S. attorney is asked to implement these five core elements in a manner that fits the needs of his or her district. By building on the efforts already begun here, I am confident that all these goals can and will be achieved in Colorado.
Prosecution of criminals is not the only - or even the paramount -- objective.
Deterrence of gun crime is a vital component of Colorado Project Exile and the other state and local initiatives that together constitute Project Safe Neighborhoods. Perhaps you've seen the billboards and the commercials.
The message of Colorado Project Exile to would-be gun criminals is simple and direct: "If you pack an illegal gun, pack your bags for jail." Here in Colorado and across the fifty states we are sending a clear message that gun crime means hard time.
People who violate federal gun laws will find a determined adversary in the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice and the Colorado law enforcement community.
With your commitment to enforce gun laws aggressively, we will fulfill our moral and legal obligation to reduce gun violence in America. Thank you.