Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Western Conservative Summit
Denver, CO
United States
Friday, June 8, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Jeff, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your leadership at the Centennial Institute.  Jeff worked at the Senate Republican Conference back when I served in the Senate—and I remain grateful for his service to the conservative movement.

Thank you to the Centennial Institute, to Colorado Christian, and to our speakers: Kelly Shackelford, Doug Robinson, Ryan Bomberger, Kirk Cameron, and my friend and former colleague Cory Gardner.

Tomorrow you’ll hear from Ed Meese.  Let me just say that I am glad that I am speaking first.  He is a tough act to follow.  Many of you have heard me say this already, but I think that he is one of the greatest Attorneys General in American history. And one of the great Americans of my lifetime.

It is great to be here with my fellow conservatives, especially right now in the Trump era when we are making so much progress for this country. 

Elections really do have consequences.  President Trump ran for office as the law-and-order candidate, and he is governing as a law-and-order president. 

First of all, President Trump has nominated some fabulous judges who recognize that they serve under the law—not above it.  The Senate has already confirmed 43 Trump judges, including 21 circuit judges—the most circuit judges at this stage of any Presidential administration. You all know how important this is.

And the Department of Justice is ending the lawlessness that too often took place under the previous administration. 

Late last night, we informed a Texas court that we would not be defending the constitutionality of the Obamacare mandate. It is a rare step but a necessary one when it comes to this monumental and historic governmental move in the American healthcare system.

And upholding the Constitution and protecting the rule of law is the foundation of everything we do. We have agreed to settlement terms with nearly 500 plaintiffs in cases brought by groups who were targeted by the IRS when they applied for tax-exempt status. 

These groups were subject to inappropriate criteria that disproportionately impacted conservative groups.

We settled 22 civil cases with 90 plaintiffs regarding the previous administration’s wrongful contraception mandate.  Just last week, a district court right here in Colorado issued a permanent injunction in the case that the Obama administration had litigated against the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Their action was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Now, because this injunction is permanent, the government can never again violate the law in the way the Obama administration did. 

Our Constitution doesn’t just protect freedom of thought or the freedom to worship in secret.  It protects the open expression of religious belief in public.  We don’t waive our constitutional rights when we participate fully in public life and civic society.

That’s why, in October, at the President’s direction – honoring his promise, I issued legal guidance that makes it clear that the federal government may not discriminate against people because of their religion—whether in rulemaking or in enforcement of the law, or in employment, grant making, or contracting, or in other areas.

And of course, our Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued before the Supreme Court in December in support of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.  And earlier this week, we won, 7 to 2.

Under this administration, religious Americans are not going to be treated as an afterthought, as deplorables, or as bitter clingers anymore.  The Trump administration recognizes the value of religion in this society.  Our heritage goes beyond the European concept of religious toleration to an affirmation of each individuals religious integrity.

I want to commend President Trump for appointing my good friend Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom.  I’m sure many of you in this room know Sam well.  I am confident that he will do a fabulous job.

So many of the threats to religious freedom that we face are also threats to another First Amendment right: freedom of speech. People are very uneasy about current trends.

But this Department of Justice is protecting this right, as well.  We have already gotten involved in free speech cases on college campuses from California to Georgia. 

That includes the case of a student who wanted to share his Christian faith, but was told that he could only speak in a tiny “free expression area,” and only at certain times.

We’re going to continue to protect our First Amendment rights.  But the first civil right is the right to be safe.

That’s why at the Department we are hammering the criminals and violent groups—especially the vicious MS-13.  This is one of the most violent and inhumane gangs in the world. 

Their motto is “kill, rape, control.”  They live by that motto every day. 

Since the beginning of 2017, MS-13 members have been charged with drug trafficking, rape, sexual assault, murder, racketeering, and violent extortion, to name a few. They seek to dominate, to control – exercise sovereignty over whole communities. The United States can never cede sovereignty over one block of our country to MS-13 or any other organized group.

Some of our friends on the Left are worried that President Trump might hurt MS-13’s feelings.  But at this Department of Justice, we are focused on the safety of the American people. 

That’s why we have put a target on the back of every MS-13 member in the world.

In 2017, working with El Salvador and other countries we helped charge or arrest a total of more than 4,000 MS-13 members across the Western Hemisphere.

In 2017, we brought cases against more violent criminals than in any year in at least a quarter century.

We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. 

We convicted nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members.

In the Trump administration, we know whose side we’re on.  We’re on the side of law and order—and we back the blue, not the criminals. We want every American to live in peace.

In recent weeks I sent in reinforcements: more than 300 additional federal prosecutors to high-crime parts of this country.  This is the biggest surge in prosecutors in decades.

These efforts are especially important because, when President Trump took office, the country had been reeling from a sudden increase in crime.

Crime had been declining for two decades.  The violent crime rate had been cut in half.  The murder rate was cut in half.  Aggravated assault was cut almost in half.  Robbery fell by 62 percent.

But from 2014 to 2016, those trends reversed.

In the last two years of the Obama administration, 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 increased by more than 20 percent.

But under President Donald Trump, we are stopping these trends.

He is a strong supporter of our law enforcement efforts.  As he said during Police Week, “If we want to bring violent crime down, then we must stand up for our police.” And make no mistake, our goal is to bring crime down.

In the Trump era, the ACLU isn’t making our law enforcement policies.  The professionals are.

And we’re seeing results.  In the first six months of last year, the increases in the murder rate slowed and violent crime actually went down.  Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.

Preliminary data for 2018 look even better.  The Major City Police Chiefs Association has reported a 3.8 percent decline in violent crime and 4.7 percent decline in murders, based on 65 reporting agencies.

New CDC preliminary data show that last fall, drug overdoses finally started to decline.  Heroin overdose deaths declined steadily from June to October, as did overdose deaths from prescription opioids.

We need this progress right now—because not only was crime increasing at the end of the Obama administration, but drug overdose deaths in this country increased by more than a third in just two years.

This Department is going after drug companies, doctors, and pharmacists and others that violate the law.

Since January 2017, we have charged more than 150 doctors and another 150 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes.  Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally. 

We have indicted more than 6,500 defendants in opioid-related investigations and seized more than $150 million from them.

In the past three months alone, the DEA has seized a total of more than 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to Boston.  Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin, and it’s so powerful that an amount equivalent to a pinch of salt is powerful enough to be deadly. 

Depending on its purity, that can be enough to kill tens of millions of people.

In the first three months of 2018, our officers worked with our state and local partners in Arizona to seize nearly 300 pounds of heroin, 80 pounds of fentanyl, and tens of thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl.  Together we prosecuted 90 drug traffickers in Arizona.  That’s just in one state. 

We have to understand that the vast majority of fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine in this country first came across our Southern border.  Tens of thousands of Americans are being killed every year because we do not have a secure border.

In 2017, Customs and Border Protection seized more than 1,100 pounds of fentanyl. 

And that number is only getting bigger – in the first seven months of fiscal year 2018, fentanyl seizures at the Mexico border skyrocketed by 750 percent compared to the same period in 2017.

If we’re going to end the drug crisis, we need a secure border.  And if we’re going to have a secure border, then we need a wall.

For decades, the American people have asked for a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest—a system we can be proud of.

That is not too much to ask.  The American people are right and just and decent.  They are right to want a safe, secure border and a government that knows who is here and who isn’t. I reject the arguments of the Left that the American people hate immigrants.

Donald Trump ran for office on that idea.  I believe that is a big reason why he won.  He is on fire about this.  This entire government knows it.

And under his leadership, we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed.  People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will begin to refer as close to 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossers as possible to the Department of Justice for prosecution.  The Department of Justice will take up those cases.

I have put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border.  If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.  It’s that simple.

If someone is smuggling illegal aliens across our Southwest border, then we will prosecute them.  Period.

I have sent 35 prosecutors to the Southwest and moved 18 immigration judges to detention centers near the border.  That is about a 50 percent increase in the number of immigration judges who will be handling cases at the border.

Eleven million people are already here illegally.  That’s more than the population of Portugal or the state of Georgia.

We already have the most generous immigration laws in the world.  We accept 1.1 million lawful permanent residents every year—that’s more than the population of Montana, every single year.  These are the highest numbers in the world. 

And that’s in addition to 700,000 people who come here explicitly to take American jobs and half a million who come here to take spots in American colleges and universities.

It cannot be that anybody seeking a better life can walk into the country contrary to the laws of the country and then demand services and benefits. 

We have to have limits.  And Congress has already set them.  Part of my job is to enforce them.

That’s why we are challenging so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions who try to nullify federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary jurisdictions refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement officers.  In many cases, they have criminals sitting in their jails who are wanted for deportation—but they won’t turn them over.  They release them back onto the streets.

If you won’t deport somebody who came here and committed a crime, then who will you deport?  Nobody.

In effect, that’s an open borders policy. 

It is absurd.  It cannot be that someone who illegally crosses the border on a Monday and gets to Denver or Boulder or Aurora on Wednesday is home free—never to be removed, even if they’re smuggling 100 pounds of heroin.

This refusal of cooperation has serious consequences.  According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, ICE was able to re-arrest only six percent of all the illegal immigrants that were released after a refusal to hand them over.  Because these criminals weren’t turned over to ICE in the first place, ICE officers have to go into dangerous situations to find them.

But the Trump administration is not going to stand for this.  President Trump is on fire about this.

In March, the Department of Justice sued the state of California over their unconstitutional sanctuary laws.  I’m confident that we are going to win that case.

We have also supported the state of Texas in its efforts to ban sanctuary cities.

Since I became Attorney General, we have filed briefs in support of state or local law enforcement in defensive litigation in about thirty cases.  A number of courts in these cases have ruled in our favor.

There is a lot more that we could talk about today.  In the Trump era we have already seen an historic string of victories for conservatives and for the American people.

But here is my message: we are going to keep up this pace.  We are not slowing down.  We are determined to keep winning and to make this country safer, stronger, and more prosperous than ever.  And I am confident that, with your help and support, we’re going to succeed.

Thank you.

Drug Trafficking
Violent Crime
Updated June 8, 2018