Homeland Security Investigations Houston
SPECIAL AGENT DAWSON: Well, sir, first I’d like to welcome everybody to the Houston Field Office for Homeland Security Investigations. I’d especially like to welcome you, sir, for being here today and recognize our other distinguished guests. Senator Cruz, thank you for being here. Representative Crenshaw, Representative Brady, and Lieutenant Governor Patrick, thank you all for being here.
We’ve also got — as you introduced you to earlier — my Deputy Special Agent in Charge here for HSI, Lester Hayes; and we have Sarah Hartnett, the Chief Counsel for the Office of Principal Legal Advisor; Patrick Contreras, the Field Office Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations; as well as their deputies, Deputy Chief Counsel Margaret Kugel and Deputy Chief Counsel Alex Perez; along with Deputy Field Office Director Bret Bradford; and Deputy Field Office Director Matt Baker.
So I can — if you had a few words you wanted to say first, sir —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’d be happy to.
SPECIAL AGENT DAWSON: Okay.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’d be happy to. To Mark and to the whole team at Houston Homeland Security Investigations: Thank for your service. This is an outstanding office; I’ll have more to say about it in a few moments. But you do — all do an extraordinary job upholding the laws of this country. And what you do here and what you do all across this region makes our families safer and our communities safer.
And on behalf of the President of the United States and on behalf of a grateful nation: Thank you for your service.
I’m also very grateful to have some great friends but also real champions of strong borders, strong enforcement with us here today. Senator Ted Cruz, thank you for your great support of this administration, particularly your strong stand with the President in his efforts to secure the resources to build a wall and secure our border.
And to Congressman Kevin Brady — my friend of many years when I served in the House of Representatives, one of the preeminent leaders in the Congress: Thank you for being here today. Thank you for your strong leadership and support.
And Congressman Crenshaw, I appreciate your strong stand and how you’ve emerged as one of the leading voices in a new generation of leaders in the Congress on this issue and so many other issues.
And Lieutenant Governor Patrick — I think I’ll be with the governor a little bit later: Thank you for everything the state of Texas is doing to stand with this administration and to support President Trump’s efforts.
We have a crisis on our southern border. And here at Homeland Security Investigations in Houston and, quite frankly, in offices like this all over the United States, we’re dealing with the consequences of the crisis. President Trump has taken decisive action, declared a national emergency to secure the resources to build a wall. We worked with these members of Congress to secure funding, not only for infrastructure on the southern border, but also for additional personnel, additional resources.
But the time has come for Congress to take action to address what is driving this crisis — which we all know what’s happening. For the first time ever, a majority of those coming across our border — that are now crossing in numbers that we haven’t seen for a decade — are families and unaccompanied children.
They’re crossing our border because they’re being enticed by human traffickers and drug cartels to take the long and dangerous journey north to take advantage of what they perceive to be as loopholes in our immigration laws. Our catch-and-release laws that allow individuals only to be held for a short period of time set a court date months down the road, most of which never show back up into the court system.
Or whether it be a whole range of rules, where we’re able to return individuals, particularly unaccompanied minors back to their home country — if that country is Mexico, but not if it’s a Central American country.
And the President and I are calling on the Congress, as we now have resources. We’re building a wall. The President will be in California today reviewing that construction as it’s underway. But we understand we’ve got to close the loopholes that human traffickers are using to entice these vulnerable families to come north. There is suffering and hardship on both sides of the border. And the time has come for the Congress to act.
I know these members are prepared to take that action to reform our immigrations laws, to close the loopholes that human traffickers use to entice people to come north.
But I’m proud to be here today, proud to be with Homeland Security Investigations. I’m proud to be meeting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement personnel to thank them for what they do. But the time has come for the Congress now to step forward and partner with this President in bringing about the reforms in our immigration laws that will assist those that are enforcing our immigration laws and keeping our communities safe in the work that they do.
So I want to thank you, Mark, for what you and your team do here every day — not just here, but all across this region. You’re making our communities safer. And — but I’m very, very grateful to be with these members of Congress as we learn about the opportunities and challenges that we have here. Just to know that these members of Congress are — have been and will continue to work closely with President Trump and our entire administration.
But again, it’s time for Congress to act. It’s time for Congress to close the loopholes that human traffickers use to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous journey north to our southern border. We close the loopholes. We build a wall. We secure our border. We provide those who enforce our laws with the resources that we’ll need. And we’ll end this crisis. We’ll end this crisis at our southern border once and for all.
But, Senator Cruz, thank you for being here. Thank you for your strong support of all the efforts that we talked about.
SENATOR CRUZ: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. Welcome to Texas. We’re glad to have you back. You have been down here many times, and we’re always thrilled when you come join us. And let me thank both you and President Trump for your leadership on securing the border.
It is a crisis. As Texans, it’s a crisis that we live with every day. That is not simply random facts in the news, but it is the reality of the state of Texas. Twelve hundred miles of southern border is in the state of Texas and this is producing a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis each and every day. Drug traffickers, human traffickers crossing the border.
We are seeing suffering. We are seeing misery. We’re seeing death. We’re seeing gang members coming in. And one point that I really appreciate you’re making, that it’s so important to understand — that anybody who is concerned with compassion, anyone who is concerned with humanity should want to close these loopholes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
SENATOR CRUZ: Because nobody who cares about compassion should want even a single little boy or a single little girl in the custody of human traffickers. These are vicious, transnational criminals. Far too many of these children are facing physical abuse or facing sexual abuse, and it’s got to stop. And it is the loopholes that Congress has put in place that encourage the traffickers to game the system that result in more children being abused and that also result in narcotics flooding into our country.
Last year, we had 70,000 people die of drug overdoses — more than died in car wrecks — as we’re seeing heroin and fentanyl and drugs coming in that are destroying our communities. This crisis needs to be solved. And I thank you and the President for realizing the seriousness of it and stepping up to act, and calling on Congress to end the delays, end the obstruction, and actually solve the crisis.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator. Well said. And it bears repetition. The American people deserve to know what these officials know, what people across Texas know — is that what is driving, in a single day, 4,000 — 4,000 people came across our border illegally a week ago.
We’re seeing numbers that we haven’t seen for more than a decade, and it is being driven by vicious criminal cartels and human traffickers with no regard for human life that are exploiting vulnerable families and exploiting loopholes in our laws. And that’s the reason why we have to have the kind of support that you just heard articulated from Senator Cruz. We have to have Congress come together, sit down, and act to close these loopholes and take that enticement away that human traffickers use to take advantage of vulnerable families and bring hardship on both sides of our border.
REPRESENTATIVE BRADY: Well, Mr. Vice President, thank you for continuing to draw attention to this humanitarian crisis. And you and the President are exactly right: Congress can’t turn a blind eye to this any longer.
You are sitting in a region where we are very proud of our immigrant population. It’s one of the blessings of our region — one of the reasons we’re one of the most economically strong and dynamic in the country. But you’re also visiting a region that pays a dear price for an open border. Our region is the number-one sex trafficking, human trafficking hub in America with — and this number always frightens me — 80,000 underage children, in our state alone, caught up in sex and human trafficking. That’s immoral.
You’re visiting a region where our U.S. Attorney just recently broke up an operation that sends 100 kilos of cocaine a month through Houston and on to Atlanta and Miami and New York. How many lives are ruined by just that one operation?
And we also bear a steep price in violence, unfortunately, and in deaths. And so, your being here, calling attention to this crisis — I know illegal immigration unfortunately provides opportunities for some really bad actors and that can’t continue any further. So thank you for being here on behalf of those families.
We’re seeing human suffering here in this region, along with those bad actors. Congress needs to stop turning a blind eye and work more closely, Mr. Vice President, with you and President Trump to really finally address this problem.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Kevin. Very well said.
And, as you said, we celebrate our immigrant population in this country. (Inaudible.) My grandfather immigrated to this country. It’s part of the rich diversity and fabric that makes Houston, Texas; and America strong.
SENATOR CRUZ: Where’d your grandfather come from?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He immigrated here from Ireland —
SENATOR CRUZ: Fantastic.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — when he was about my son’s age.
But illegal immigration tears at the fabric of our society. And as you know here at Homeland Security Investigations, criminal illegal immigrants coming into our country endanger our communities and our families.
I will tell you, it’s inspiring. I’ll talk about it in a few minutes — the record of this office, the record of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement here is remarkable.
But something the Lieutenant Governor just said to me at the airport is something we can’t say often enough: For every one that we apprehend — a dangerous criminal, illegal immigrant — there are those that we don’t apprehend who are still in our communities. For every resource that is expended to deal with families and unaccompanied children coming across our border, dangerous individuals are able to enter our country at other points along the border.
And so, in every sense, it’s a crisis, and these members have addressed that clearly. It’s the reason the President is in California today — not just to review the wall, but to continue work. We’re going to continue to bring all attention to bear on this issue until the Congress steps up and takes the action necessary to close these loopholes and end this crisis once and for all.
Congressman Crenshaw, I’ll give you a word. And then the Lieutenant Governor and anybody else on your team that you want to recognize.
REPRESENTATIVE CRENSHAW: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And I thank the President as well for their continued attention on this — on this very important issue.
I want to say, real quick, because we’re here at ICE: On SEAL teams, I’ve actually worked with HSI before. We did some cross-training once. We worked on CQC — close quarters combat — together.
There are very few people in this country who understand what it means to go through a door and not know what’s on the other end, and what’s on that other end of the door could be a barrel of a gun.
There are not that many people willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us and to protect the rule of law. And yet, they’re demonized. They’re told that they should be banned because they’re protecting our liberty.
And what is liberty? Liberty — what’s the difference between liberty and freedom? Well, freedom is “do whatever you want.” Liberty means you live with freedom within the rule of law. That is what ICE does. That is what this conversation is all about; it’s about our right as a country to protect our own sovereignty and live within the rule of law. Because otherwise, our resources are drained, people are hurt. In Houston alone, we have some low-income hospitals — 25 percent of their spending goes towards illegal immigration. That’s not fair to American citizens.
I appreciate so much the administration tackling this specific issue: the loopholes. The loopholes are what is driving this crisis. We have — there was really no good reason why you should be asking for asylum in between ports of entry. To do that, you have to pay off a drug cartel because they have complete operational control of our southern border.
You have to pay off a drug cartel in order to get across there. They should be going to ports of entry. That should be one of our first steps. We have to end catch and release. That would have a dramatic effect on this problem, in a humane way. We can still take in the people who are claiming asylum and have valid claims. We should; we’re a generous country. But we have to reform this so that people stop taking advantage of it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well said, Dan. Thank you. And thanks for your service — then and now. Great respect.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR PATRICK: Thank you, Mr. Vice President for your leadership on this issue and the President’s. This is a crisis, an emergency in Texas. Anyone who says it’s not — it’s a manufactured cover-up, not a manufactured crisis. It’s real.
The Texas Senate this week passed a unanimous resolution by all the Republicans that said we have a crisis and emergency on the Texas border to send a strong message to Congress that we need assistance.
We will spend nearly another billion dollars of Texas taxpayer money this year in our new budget. We’ve spent almost $2 billion in the last two budgets. And that’s $3 billion from Texas taxpayers.
One out of five students in public school today do not speak English in Texas. Some of those are born in America, but many are here. That’s — in our state, Mr. Vice President, we have 5.5 million students; 1 million don’t speak English. The cost to the taxpayers on that issue alone is significant. The cost of crime — over 200,000 illegal immigrants arrested in the last eight years charged with over 300,000 crimes, just in Texas.
Just this week, the humanitarian crisis — our Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rounded up 59 women in three bars and cantinas who were all in slavery. We have modern day slavery in America today. And no one in Washington — on the other side — wants to do anything to protect these young girls and women.
These women are subjected to having sex with men — 10, 15, 20 times a day. When they were rounded up — they were rounded up; the lawyers for the cartels were there. They’re afraid to speak. And people are turning a blind eye to this. And as you said, Mr. Vice President, if we have 100,000 we apprehend this month, another 2- or 300,000 are in.
So we don’t have 11 million illegal in this country, we have close to 30 million, which is the MIT study and the study we’ve done in Texas, because we average apprehending 400,000 people a year for the last 20 years. If we get one out of four, that means about a million and half have been coming in.
So it was 11 million, according to the Chamber of Commerce, in 2004. So the numbers today are almost 10 percent of our population that are here illegally. It must end and we must do something for these children and these women who are actual sex slaves in the year 2019. I thought it ended in 1865. It’s back again and Democrats in Washington need to do something about it.
And thanks to ICE, every law enforcement member — whether you’re a sheriff, you’re a border sheriff, no matter where you are in the country — police — everyone is dealing with this issue in the entire country.
Mr. Vice President, thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Well, thanks for your commitment to this. Thank you. Please convey to the members of the Senate our gratitude.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR PATRICK: I will.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — for their support. I’ll be carrying the resolution back to the President.
SPECIAL AGENT DAWSON: Sir, Deputy Special Agent in Charge Hayes is going to say a few words.
SPECIAL AGENT HAYES: Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much for coming.
Really briefly, I just want to say that the agents are basically laser-focused on their investigations and the targets of those investigations. And their satisfaction comes from placing handcuffs on those that run afoul of the law.
SPECIAL AGENT DAWSON: And we just want to, again, thank you —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Lester.
SPECIAL AGENT DAWSON: — all of you — for your support.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Thank you.
Thank you all.
Q Mr. Vice President, Senator Cruz and Senator Cornyn recently expressed their concerns about the serious detriment they say could happen if, in fact, President Trump closes — shuts down the border at Texas, as he recently threatened to do. What’s your response to that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I — look, we have great respect for Senator Cruz and Senator Cornyn. And the President has made it clear that Mexico is stepping up.
We’ve been very encouraged, frankly, in the last week with the efforts that Mexico is taking along their southern border to deal with this migration, driven by human traffickers and drug cartels, up from the Northern Triangle countries.
But we’re calling on Mexico to do more. The President has made it clear that if, over the course of the next year, that Mexico fails to act, we’ll begin by considering tariffs that we impose on cars that come into our country. And hopefully, the President will consider closing portions of our southern border.
But we’re hopeful because Mexico is responding. I think the President — as we spoke in the last two days, the President has been very encouraged at the leadership that President Obrador has made in this case.
But we have to have our neighbors to the south join us in common cause. And they’re doing so in new and in renewed ways, which we think will not make it necessary for us to consider either tariffs or closing the border a year from now.
But that being said, to address this immediate crisis, Congress has to act. It will only be the Congress that’s able to close the loopholes that human traffickers use to encourage people, on a cash basis, to pay for money to come north and apply for asylum in the United States in the hopes of being able to defraud our system and vanish into our country.
I mean, we’re even seeing some members of the media that have been critical of the President’s leadership on border security, now — who’ve been down to the border in recent days — who are seeing this crisis firsthand and confirming it.
So we’re here to call on the Congress. We’re here to call on the Congress to come to the table with these strong leaders in the House and Senate, work with us, close the loopholes that are driving the present crisis. And we’ll continue to work closely with Mexico in partnership with them to end this crisis of illegal immigration in the long term.
Thank you all very much.