Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Rotary Club of Des Moines AM
Des Moines, IA
United States
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Friday, August 17, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Jeff for that kind introduction; thank you for your leadership as former president of the Des Moines Rotary Club.

My chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, is a proud former member and former United States Attorney for Southern Iowa.  Most importantly, he’s the only Rotarian ever to make it into the Ankeny High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

And thank you to Joe—your successor as president—for your remarks.  Thank you all for the invitation to join you.

We’ve got a distinguished group here today:

  • Former Congressman Greg Ganske
  • Mayor Dean O’Connor of Altoona
  • Former state representative Wayne Ford
  • Mike Bailey of the British Embassy


It is great to be with you.

And it is great to be back in the Hawkeye State again.  Senator Grassley and I have been friends for many years.  We used to make trouble together on the Judiciary Committee and I was thrilled when he became the chairman.  I am also a big fan of Senator Ernst—she’s one of the rising stars in the Senate.  I’m also a friend of Ambassador Branstad, who is doing a great job. 

I think the fact that he was the longest-serving governor in American history tells you that the people of Iowa love him.

This is a wonderful state, and a city with a strong business community.

I know that many of you, like Jeff, are business leaders here in Des Moines.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are and you’ve made major contributions to this community.  Some of you are employers and many of you have done service projects with the Rotary Club.  I want to thank you for that.

President Trump spent most of his life as a businessman.  I think we can all agree that experience has been an asset to him as president.  Since his election, the stock market has gone up by a third.  In January, the total value of the stock market hit $30 trillion. 

Since the election, we’ve added 3.9 million more jobs and more than 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off of food stamps.  Unemployment for African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians has hit record lows and we now have the longest job growth streak on record.

I think those results speak for themselves.

President Trump understands that if we want prosperity, then we need to uphold the rule of law.

When crime rates go up, businesses don’t want to invest, property values go down, kids can’t learn in school, and precious human potential is wasted.  If we allow crime to rise, it starts a vicious cycle of crime, poverty, and more crime.

But on the other hand, safety can make prosperity possible.  Look at New York City.  First, Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani made the streets safe and then prosperity followed—it wasn’t the other way around.  Their example shows that sophisticated policing strategies can help start a virtuous cycle of safety and prosperity.

That’s one reason why I was particularly concerned to see that crime went up here in Iowa and across the nation in the years before President Trump took office.

The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.

For Iowa, the numbers were pretty close to the same.

But here in Des Moines, they were even more alarming.

The violent crime rate went up by 18 percent.  So did robbery.  Motor vehicle theft went up 15 percent. Murder went up by 42 percent.  Rape went up by 58 percent. These numbers are deeply troubling—and especially since they represent a sharp reversal of decades of progress. 

But we are getting back on track.  We at the Department of Justice—with our state and local partners—have taken these recent developments seriously and have responded.  Yielding to these trends is not an option.

We have clear goals at the Department.  From day one I plainly stated our goals are to reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths.  That’s what the American people deserve.

And I believe that is what the Trump administration will deliver. 

Both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate are beginning to head back in the right direction—down.  Preliminary indications based on publicly available information from 88 large cities suggest that violent crime overall was down in the first quarter of 2018 compared to 2017.  Violent crime went down 6.8 percent and murder went down 5.5 percent.

President Trump has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions by one third in three years.  According to the National Prescription Audit, over the past year we reduced prescriptions by over 11 percent. That's in addition to a more than 7 percent decline in 2017.

And finally, while 2017 saw more overdose deaths than 2016, the most recent data show a possible leveling off of overdose deaths.  We have a lot of work left to do, but with President Trump’s leadership, we are beginning to see some progress.

If we’re going to get serious about reducing crime and keeping our communities safe, then we have to get serious about illegal immigration.

The American people have been begging and pleading with our elected officials for an immigration system that is lawful and that serves our national interest—one that we can be proud of.  There is nothing mean-spirited about that.  They are right, decent and just to ask for this.

We have the most generous immigration laws in the world—don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

We do want the rules enforced and we want to finally end the illegality.

Iowa alone has some 40,000 illegal aliens.  That’s nearly the population of Cedar Falls—just in illegal aliens, just in Iowa.

Nationwide, it is estimated that we have some 11 million illegal aliens in this country.  That’s a population more than triple the size of Iowa. There are criminals in that cohort of illegal aliens.

Countless people have lost their lives because—for decades—the federal government has failed to enforce our immigration laws.

A few months ago, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a report that shows that more than one out of every five people in Bureau of Prisons custody were foreign born.

In 2016, a fire in Los Angeles allegedly set by a homeless illegal alien killed four Iowans from Ottumwa as well as a man from California.  One of those victims was an 18-year old girl named Tierra.  They had to use dental records to identify her.  Another of the victims was the father of three young children. He has been separated from his children—permanently.

Within the previous six months, the illegal alien that set that fire had been arrested in the United States twice for alleged domestic violence and drug possession.  He was released just days before he started the fire.

In Hampton, Iowa, an illegal alien from Mexico stole the identity of somebody from Puerto Rico, acquired an American passport—and voted in the 2012 presidential election.  Don’t let anybody tell you that voter fraud doesn’t exist.

And, of course, one case that President Trump has talked about a lot is the story of Sarah Root.

Sarah was 21 years old.  She had just graduated summa cum laude from Bellevue University, outside of Omaha.  Sixteen hours after graduation, she was hit by a 19-year old drunk driver who was in this country illegally.  Police say that his blood alcohol content was triple the legal limit.

A few days later, her alleged killer went to court.  In three minutes, his taxpayer-funded attorney helped him post bond and he hasn’t been seen since.  ICE is looking for him right now.

Sarah Root’s alleged killer entered the country illegally when he was 16.  He was stopped by Border Patrol as an unaccompanied minor. The federal government brought him to Tennessee, where he lived with his brother.  The next year, they moved to Omaha. In Omaha, he was cited for two driving infractions by Omaha police, and never showed up in court for either one.

Tierra had dreams.  Sarah Root had dreams.  But as President Trump put it, the open borders crowd thinks of victims like them as “just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting, one more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be no surprise to us when somebody breaks our laws to come here breaks our laws again. 

Their very first act in this country is breaking the law, usually without consequences.  So it’s no surprise when they break the law again.

There are other consequences of an unsecure border.

For example, most of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl in this country got here across our Southern border.  Tens of thousands of Americans die every year as a result.

From 2014 to 2016, the overdose death rate in Iowa went up by 18 percent.

The people of Des Moines remember the story of Michael Emberlin. Michael grew up on the south side of Des Moines.  Last year he overdosed and died just two days before Christmas at the age of 28. 

In his obituary, his mother wrote, “Michael is preceded in death by 13 of his friends who also lost their lives to the opioid epidemic.”

Thirteen young people.

It is a safe bet that the drugs that killed them came over our Southern Border.  They’re taking American lives every day.

So it’s time to put an end to this.  We cannot accept the status quo.

We will not accept it.

With President Donald Trump, we have an historic opportunity to achieve the lawful immigration system that the American people deserve.

President Trump has an immigration proposal that would finally solve the problem and give the American people security and peace of mind.  He wants to end the illegality, build a wall, hire more ICE officers, and switch to a merit-based system, like they have in Canada and Australia. 

He wants to mandate the E-verify system, to keep illegal aliens from taking jobs from Americans and legal immigrants.  He wants to make gang members, drunk drivers, and child abusers ineligible to come here.

Under President Trump’s leadership, we have already taken steps to restore legality to the system.

We have stopped rewarding sanctuary cities for their irrational and unlawful policies.  We are channeling our law enforcement grants to cities and states that actually cooperate with immigration enforcement.

And I must say, the people of Iowa have done their part, too.  You’re making your voices heard.

This April, Governor Reynolds signed SF-481 into law, which effectively mirrors our policy—and then some, banning state grants to sanctuary cities.  This is a strong law that sends a strong message.  And we’re happy to see that cities in Iowa are complying.

I think it’s time that other states start to follow your lead.

There’s a lot more that we could talk about today.  But with that, I’d be happy to take a few questions.

Topic(s): 
Immigration
Violent Crime
Updated August 17, 2018