Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Administers the Oath of Allegiance and Delivers Congratulatory Remarks at Ellis Island Ceremony in Celebration of Constitution Week and Citizenship Day
Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Mark for that kind introduction, for your leadership with the CPOA, and most all for your 22 years of service in law enforcement.
I also want to thank all of the other law enforcement leaders who are here today:
It is a special honor to be with the California Peace Officers' Association.
With nearly a century of history, and more than 16,000 members, CPOA represents the core of California’s law enforcement community.
I know, first hand, the importance of the work that you do. I know its dangers, challenges, frustrations, and satisfactions. I have had years of firsthand experience working with your colleagues. And while I have inexpressible pride in our fabulous federal law officers, I am fully aware that 85 percent of all law enforcement officers are state, local, and tribal.
And I am well aware that the increased training, professionalism, leadership, and more effective enforcement policies of our departments nationwide, and over several decades, has been the critical factor in reversing the dramatic rise in crime that we saw throughout the 1970s.
Over a 22 year period, we saw homicide rates cut in half, youth drug use fall by almost half, and violent crime fall dramatically. It was an achievement few would have ever expected.
Much of the transformative leadership for this change arose from your former Governor and our President Ronald Reagan—aided by his fabulous California counselor and later Attorney General, Ed Meese.
Maybe in recent years we got complacent and took our eye off the ball, but recent trends are deeply worrisome.
In 2014 and 2015 violent crime stopped falling and jumped seven percent nationwide.
Homicide surged 20 percent, the largest increase since 1968. And drug availability rose dramatically, lethal purity reached unprecedented levels while prices fell. And along with the new killer drug, fentanyl, overdose deaths reached levels we have never seen before—66,000 deaths last year.
That is why on my first day in office, President Trump sent me three executive orders: (1) to back the women and men in blue, (2) to reduce crime in America, and (3) to dismantle transnational criminal gangs.
We at the Department of Justice embrace these goals. I know you do too.
Let me be explicit: our express goal is to reduce the violent crime rate, reduce the homicide rate, reduce the amount of opioids prescribed, and reduce overdose deaths.
Let’s resolve to achieve these goals. Ours is not just a job, but our sworn duty, and for many of us, a high calling.
And a lawful immigration system that serves the national interest helps us achieve these goals and more. That’s what we need to talk about today.
We are a strong, prosperous, and orderly nation. And such a nation must have a lawful system of immigration. I am not aware of any advanced nation that does not understand this fundamental tenet.
And let no one contend that we reject immigration and want to “wall off America” from all lawful immigration. President Trump and the American people know what’s happening. We admit 1.1 million immigrants lawfully to permanent legal status—green card status—every year, the highest numbers in the world.
Indeed, at this unprecedented rate we will soon have the largest percentage of non-native born in our nation’s history with the percentage continuing to rise every year thereafter.
Thus, the good and decent people of this country are right to insist that this country should end the illegality, create a rational immigration flow, and protect the nation from criminal aliens.
It cannot be that someone who illegally crosses the border and two days later arrives in Sacramento, Dubuque, Louisville, and Central Islip is home free—never to be removed.
It cannot be the policy of a great nation to up and reward those who unlawfully enter its country with legal status, Social Security, welfare, food stamps, and work permits. Meanwhile those who engage in this process lawfully and patiently and wait their turn are discriminated against at every turn.
Most Americans get this. They are working hard to make ends meet, follow the rules, and try to keep their loved ones safe.
They, our citizens, want our government to think about them for a change to consider their interests. They have dreams too. Frankly, this commonsense concept was a key factor in President Trump’s election. Elections have consequences.
Immigration law is the province of the federal government. This Administration and this Justice Department are determined to make it work effectively for the people.
I understand that we have a wide variety of political opinions out there on immigration. But the law is in the books and its purpose is clear.
There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is “the supreme law of the land.” I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.
A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law and creates an open borders system. Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.
The United States of America is not “an idea;” it is a secular nation-state with a Constitution, laws, and borders, all of which are designed to protect our nation’s interests. Surely, we should be able to agree on this much.
To carry out the intent of our laws, we need law officers. We need our Immigration and Customs Officers and our Customs and Border Protection officers. They are your brothers and sisters. President Trump, the Congress, and the American people want them to accomplish the goals our laws set out for them. That’s why we pay them.
But, California, we have a problem. A series of actions and events has occurred that directly and adversely impact the work of our federal officers.
For example, the mayor of Oakland has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE. Her actions support those who flout our laws and boldly validate the illegality. There’s no other way to interpret her remarks.
To make matters worse, the elected Lieutenant Governor of this state praised her for doing so. Bragging about and encouraging the obstruction of our law enforcement and the law is an embarrassment to this proud and important state.
Tom Homan, Acting Director of ICE has said that “being a law enforcement officer is already dangerous enough, but to give the criminals a heads up that we're coming in the next 24 hours increases that risk. I watch [the mayor’s] statement when she said her priority is the safety of her community, but what she did has the exact opposite effect.”
According to Acting Director Homan, ICE failed to make 800 arrests that they would have made if the mayor had not acted as she did.
Those are 800 wanted aliens that are now at large in that community—most are wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue with more difficulty in more dangerous situations, all because of one mayor’s irresponsible action.
So here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you. How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda.
But in California, we have an even bigger problem than just one mayor. The problems continue.
For example, in January, Ventura County declined a request from ICE to hold an alien Ventura had arrested for continuous sexual abuse of a child. Instead of being removed from this country, he was released back into the community and now our federal law enforcement will need to find him and arrest him wherever he may be.
In recent years, California has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers—to intentionally use every power it has to undermine duly-established immigration law in America.
California won’t let employers voluntarily allow ICE agents on their property. And California requires employers to give notice to employees before ICE inspects their workplace.
When this law was before the California General Assembly, a Judiciary Committee report explicitly stated that its goal was to frustrate “an expected increase in federal immigration enforcement actions.”
ICE agents are federal law enforcement officers carrying out federal law. California cannot forbid them or obstruct them in doing their jobs.
Just imagine if a state passed a law forbidding employers from cooperating with OSHA in ensuring workplace safety. Or the EPA, looking for a polluter. That would obviously be absurd. But it would be no different in principle from this new law enacted by California.
And just think about the situation it puts California employers in. They want to help law enforcement. They want to do their civic duty. We ought to encourage that.
But your state attorney general has repeatedly said his office will prosecute these business owners. Let me quote: “ignorance of the law is no excuse if you violate it” and “you are subjecting yourself to up to $10,000 [in fines] for violations.”
California has also claimed the authority to inspect facilities where ICE holds people in custody. Already this year, California has specifically and in a discriminatory manner targeted six facilities and demanded documents and other material from the Department of Homeland Security.
California won’t let law enforcement officers like you transfer prisoners into ICE custody or even communicate with ICE that you’re about to release someone they’re looking for. Remember that California found these people dangerous enough to detain them in the first place, but then insists on releasing them back into the community instead of allowing federal officers to remove them.
And rather than allow ICE officers to do their jobs at the jailhouse, they force these officers to conduct far more dangerous arrests elsewhere—where violent criminals may reside and where children can be caught in the crossfire.
That’s not just unconstitutional, it’s a plain violation of federal statute and common sense.
Importantly, these laws are harmful to Californians, and they’re especially harmful to law enforcement.
That’s why the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit yesterday against the state of California to invalidate these unjust laws and to immediately freeze their effect. Federal agents must be able to do the job that Congress has directed them to do.
Contrary to what you might hear from the lawless open borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland, or anyone else to enforce immigration laws.
Although we would welcome the positive assistance the majority of jurisdictions in America provide, ICE agents do incredible work every day. They will not be deterred.
We are simply asking California and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement.
Stop treating immigration agents differently from everybody else for the purpose of eviscerating border controls and advancing an open borders philosophy shared by only the most radical extremists. Stop protecting lawbreakers and giving all officers more dangerous work to do so that a few politicians can score political points on the backs of officer safety.
You are professionals. You understand the risks involved.
Think about the officers knocking on a door to execute a warrant. They don’t know what’s on the other side. It’s not fair to them to keep putting them in that situation by releasing criminal aliens into the community who shouldn’t even be in the country. I sign condolence letters for law enforcement killed in the line of duty; I fundamentally reject, at my core, that we should further endanger the lives of those who risk everything for us just because some officials in California wants to violate the law in promotion of their radical agenda.
California is using every power it has—and some it doesn’t—to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them.
We are going to fight these irrational, unfair, and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you and our federal officers. We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America. We are fighting to have a lawful system of immigration that serves Americans. And we intend to win.
I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement—federal, state, local, and tribal. The work that you do—that you have dedicated your lives to—is essential. I believe it. The Department of Justice believes it. And President Trump believes it.
You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.