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Transcript of Remarks Delivered by Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip at the U.S. District Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thank you, Diane. Good afternoon; it's a pleasure to be here. I am in Arizona today to see for myself the enormous efforts of the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in protecting our border. I also brought with me from Washington Ken Melson, the director of our Executive Office for United States Attorneys, who has coordinated our efforts on the border, and has helped orchestrate our push for more resources.

I was sworn in as Deputy Attorney General just last month, and I wanted to get down here as soon as possible, because border issues are among the top priorities of the Department. 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 took a helicopter trip along the border, and visited the port of entry at Nogales, 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, local and tribal level, are very, very complex, and they are doing an outstanding job.

Nearly half of all alien apprehensions, and half of all marijuana seizures along the border take place here in Arizona. Just last month, a Tucson man was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his part in a scheme to traffic more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana from the border to New York City.

Of course, federal agents and prosecutors here are also responsible for all felony cases on Arizona’s 21 Indian reservations. Including the reservations, national parks, national forests, and the border, 70 percent of the state’s land-area is under federal supervision.

On top of that, Arizona has one of the five most populous cities in the country, with its own urban issues that are quite different from the problems seen in more rural areas. I salute the men and women here for their hard work on all these issues.

My other purpose in coming here today is to announce the distribution of some of those resources I mentioned earlier, specifically $7 million for the five border districts, to support security and immigration enforcement efforts. This money will fund 64 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 35 new contract support positions for the 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 of Justice does, the specific need to target border issues. In an effort to make the most of those dollars, we asked U.S. Attorneys, including Diane Humetewa, to work with their law enforcement partners in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, to strategically attack criminal activity on the border.

Diane has been U.S. Attorney for just a short time, but she is concerned about these issues, and dedicated to finding the best possible solutions, as am I.

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. Law enforcement professionals here in Arizona are the experts who know this area, and know what will work best here.

For the District of Arizona, that means an allocation of 21 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and about a dozen additional support positions. That's a significant increase from the current 133 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the district. These new prosecutors will handle cases like drug and gun smuggling, illegal entry and reentry, worksite enforcement, and false documents.

In addition to these 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.

The Department of Justice and this U.S. Attorney's Office have always pursued large-scale drug smugglers on the border, along with smaller cases involving repeat offenders and other serious violators. We remain committed to that effort. This new money, and the positions it will fund, means that we will be able to prosecute even more cases than before, targeting smugglers both large and small.

It means that Operation Arizona Denial can take more cases, prosecute more people for illegal entry to break the smuggling cycle, 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 U.S. Border Patrol together with our U.S. Attorney's Office; further evidence that we achieve our best results when we work together.

And it 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 gun 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 fantastic job in tough conditions. Exactly how tough was brought home to us on January 19th, when Senior Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar, of the Yuma Border Patrol Station, was killed trying to stop a suspected smuggler. His tragic death is a reminder that border issues are serious, and need to be taken seriously.

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 your questions now.

QUESTION: Given the burden in the courts now, the prosecution, is there any discussion from your office or otherwise to increase the number of judges to help speed the flow of these cases?

MR. FILIP: I don’t want to insult your intelligence; I am sure that you appreciate that the Department of Justice doesn’t get to decide the number of judges there are. But the issue I am glad you asked that question, it’s a very rare issue, Congress has dedicated a lot of resources to addressing border concerns, the President has as well, its important that the judiciary, when you address any law enforcement issue the response is almost organic and so the judicial component of that will have to be very thoughtfully considered in Washington by people who make those decisions and we’ll certainly be prepared to answer those questions if posed to us by those decision makers about additional judicial resources that might be appropriate.

QUESTION: But it’s something you would like to see happen?

MR. FILIP: It is having … having an appropriate judicial resources in any district is very important, and the judges here in Arizona and all of the Southwest Border districts carry some of the highest case loads in the nation.

QUESTION: Is there a backlog right now? I mean … is there a slow process in terms of judication? And is this the answer to fix that?

MR. FILIP: I think that. No I don’t think it’s a backlog, in terms of if I think there are cases that aren’t being worked on by diligent hard working people. The problem typically, or the issue typically in law enforcement is that we don’t believe that we’ve gotten everyone who is engaging in criminal activity and by devoting these resources, we will be able to provide a more comprehensive approach. For example, on firearms trafficking that is going on. It’s not that we have everybody who we think is out there and it’s just taking a bit longer than we’d hoped to get them due process and have their cases resolved one way or another.

QUESTION: But how does getting prosecutors fix that?

MR. FILIP: Because the law enforcement organism, if you will, is comprehensive. Having just simply arresting people by police officers or law enforcement agents is only the first step. It then sets off responsibilities. People need to be prosecuted in accordance with due process and the courts, judges hear those cases, defense attorneys participate, people need to humanely house those people in prisons, and have space to do that. It’s a very comprehensive situation that needs to be addressed comprehensively.

QUESTION: How many more cases do you think the attorneys will be able to handle on a daily basis?

MR. FILIP: You know; that question is the sort of question that we are designed to leave to local prosecutors to decide.

QUESTION: Do you know what the numbers are currently?

MR. FILIP: I believe it’s 60 a day.

QUESTION: (inaudible) as it relates to border issue crimes?

MR. FILIP: Operation Arizona Denial is a particular type of misdemeanor prosecution of non-violent entries; so it would be 60 of those sorts of cases. There’s thousands of cases of other sorts prosecuted in the district.

QUESTION: So, the main thing is, bringing more prosecutions of border-related crimes of all sorts – gun running, drug smuggling, and (inaudible)?

MR. FILIP: To the extent there are cases where people are … we believe them to be guilty, absolutely. I mean, we don’t bring cases if we don’t think the person’s guilty, obviously. But it’s … it’s more comprehensive than that. Oftentimes, when law enforcement officers engage in their investigative efforts, it is of necessity … it’s necessary for attorneys to be involved in the planning of those investigations to make sure people’s constitutional rights are respected, to make sure that the case that’s brought in court ultimately can succeed. So they would certainly be involved in court-room prosecutions in the way that might be most commonly known, but they’d also be involved in the investigative phases as appropriate.

QUESTION: (inaudible) marijuana trafficking, there’s some perception that the threshold for prosecution is quite high. Does that mean that the threshold is going to go down and we’ll see more cases (inaudible)?

MR. FILIP: I’m extraordinarily grateful that you asked that question because I think that there’s been a misperception about that. When cases are evaluated for marijuana prosecutions here in Arizona, as in most places in the country with which I’m familiar, it’s typically done on the basis of any number of factors. One of those, as reflected in Federal criminal statutes and the sentencing guidelines is to look at the weight of narcotics involved. That’s only one factor. Sometimes weight alone can justify a prosecution. But, in addition, you would always look at the criminal history of the arrestee, whether a firearm was involved, whether it involved endangering children, things of that sort. So that’s always been the operative metric here in the District of Arizona. These additional prosecutors, one might conclude, although this decision will be left to Diane and her career people here, could allow for even more cases involving lower weights than might otherwise have been prosecuted before. But the fundamental idea that there is an extraordinarily high amount of weight and that below that someone is somehow immunized, that’s a falsehood I would hope to dispel.

QUESTION: The resources you are announcing today will enable prosecutors to (inaudible) in Operation Streamline (inaudible)?

MR. FILIP: That’s something, I think, that you need to direct to Diane because we don’t micromanage stuff that way – by design.

QUESTION: Several of your counterparts in the Texas area have made the case that the smuggling trade has a tremendous amount of money and resources to be able to operate and that there’s so much money that there has to be necessarily corruption north of the border as well as south of the border. I wonder whether or not you felt that that was an adequate description (inaudible)?

MR. FILIP: I don’t want to speculate. I will say this. Both in my own personal experience, in Judge Mukasey’s experience, and in our vision for what the Justice Department will do – if there is corruption, including corruption by law enforcement officers, it will be prosecuted. And it certainly would be appropriately prosecuted here if it exists. But the vast, vast majority of law enforcement officers in America are among the most honorable people in the country. But where people have crossed the line and are engaging in illicit conduct, our prosecution of them furthers the law enforcement mission, it doesn’t undermine it.

QUESTION: Sir, what would you say to people who feel that too many of their taxpayer dollars go toward prosecuting immigration-related issues that local counties are not being refunded for?

MR. FILIP: Generally speaking, funding would not … federal funding would not otherwise be given to state or local authorities. So they are kind of, with all respect, comparing apples and oranges if someone were to say that. Obviously, there’s enormous pressing needs in every community – children’s education, health care issues, all sorts of things. I think there’s a … there’s a consensus, certainly by the people who are our bosses, the Congress and the President, that immigration is a priority and border security is a priority. So we’re trying to take those resources that are given to us and use them in the most prudent and responsible way possible.

QUESTION: The Justice Department has been asked to review the activities of Sheriff Joe Arpaio (inaudible). Do you plan to take action on that, and do you have an opinion on the legality of (inaudible)?

MR. FILIP: That reference has been directed towards our Civil Rights Division. The Civil Rights Division are the experts in that area of law. It would be irresponsible for me to comment on allegations that are under review. I’m confident that the professionals there will give it a thorough review and will make an assessment consistent with their expertise.

QUESTION: So am I right in hearing you say that it is being reviewed?

MR. FILIP: It has been referred … there has been a request, and it was referred to the Civil Rights Division. Those are the people who would look at it. The fact that this would occur, as in anything else in the United States of America, an allegation is not proof. People are presumed innocent, whether that’s in a civil or criminal context, and that’s certainly the case here. But, but, when we get an allegation of that sort, it’s a serious allegation and it will be investigated.

QUESTION: Mr. Filip, having been to the border yourself, what sorts of things would change – would you see changing – at the border to indicate that the new initiatives, the new resources, the new attorneys, that that whole thing is a success?

MR. FILIP: Really, that … those metrics, I think, would probably best be defined by law enforcement agents who spend their careers on the border. One would hope for less violence. One would hope for … you know … even something like the amount of drugs seized, at some level seizing a lot more drugs is a positive. If you seize more and more drugs every year maybe that means it’s not fixing things. So that’s an ambiguous sort of metric. You would hope certainly for less violence, and beyond that, I’d be speculating outside my expertise. I would think that the DEA, the Border Patrol folks and FBI could tell you where they think they are winning and where they think they are losing.

MR. FILIP: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (inaudible) all 64 positions?

MR. FILIP: I got to catch a flight, I’m sorry. Thank you.