THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I want to thank the Acting Administrator for his great leadership of this agency, and for his service and his words today. And to the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, thank you for your service to the people of the United States. Would you join me in thanking these two great leaders for all they do for the American people? (Applause.)
It’s an honor to be with all of you today and with these great leaders and all those you represent — some 10,000 law enforcement personnel not just around America, but around the world who are working every day to protect American families and defend this nation from the scourge of drug abuse, addiction, and the crime and syndicates and violence associated with it. It is an honor to be at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Thank you for your service. (Applause.)
And it’s a privilege to be able to come here today to receive a briefing from your senior leadership about the status of our efforts, in this hemisphere and around the world, in combatting drug abuse and addiction.
And before I get started, let me bring greetings from a great champion of law enforcement, a great champion of this agency, and someone who works every day to make sure you have the resources and the support that you need to protect the American people — I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
As the President said not long ago, “there is nobody that deserves respect more than” the men and women of law enforcement. And I see that everywhere he travels around this country. And I can see, on your faces, gathered here today, that you know you have a President, you have an entire administration that appreciates the work that you do defending the American people.
And I’m really here today not just to learn more about the important work of this agency that each one of you do every day, here and around the country and around the world, but really also just to say thank you, to pay a debt of gratitude to each and every one of you for the efforts that you make on behalf of America’s families.
It’s amazing to think that, every day, men and women of the DEA serve on the frontlines of law enforcement here at home and in 69 other countries around the world, oftentimes risking your lives to protect the American people from deadly drugs and the criminal organizations that profit from trafficking it in our country.
I can assure you that every American is grateful for the careers represented in this room and for the efforts of the men and women who are gathered here. As I sat at the briefing table, just a few moments ago, I asked all the senior leadership to tell me how many years they’d been at the DEA. And only six of them spoke, and I counted up 200 years. (Laughter.) Would you give yourselves another round of applause for the long record of service that each of you have provided? (Applause.)
I could tell from them and I can tell from all of you that you know this is a calling. It’s a calling to serve and protect the American people here at the DEA. And thanks to all of you for the many, many years you’ve invested in that.
And I want to assure you: This President has your back. From the first month after taking office, the President signed an executive order to strengthen the authority of the DEA and law enforcement at every level to combat transnational criminal organizations, drug cartels, and gangs that threaten the American people.
The President also signed into law a historic opioid bill that gives the DEA and your partners in addiction prevention and treatment programs around the world the tools and resources that you need to combat this crisis as never before.
And, at the President’s direction, our administration is hard at work, as we speak, with leaders in Congress to ensure that next year’s budget gives you the resources you need to hire even more special agents and fill other positions that are vital to carrying out the DEA’s missions. You fight for us every day; we are going to fight for you. That’s a promise. (Applause.)
So, we’ve made progress, as the Deputy Attorney General said, in the last two years. But the people in this room and the people that are looking on around the country and around the world know there is much work yet to be done.
The truth is — and the President and I are very aware of this — the truth is that your jobs are as difficult and as dangerous today as ever before, largely driven by a crisis on our southern border fueling the very criminal syndicates and drug traffickers that you’re dedicated to fighting.
It’s remarkable to think that, on any given day, some 2,000 individuals attempt to come into this country illegally. And for the first time ever, the vast majority of those are families and unaccompanied minors, driven by human traffickers and the cartels in an attempt to overwhelm our system to create even more access to the American people for their nefarious trade.
The men and women of the DEA know firsthand the reality and the challenges that we face along our southern border and in this hemisphere. Transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America represent one of the greatest national security and public health threats in America. And every day that our southern border remains unsecured gives these criminals yet another opportunity to peddle their poison and spread their violence into communities large and small across this country.
Now, let me assure you, as the debate goes on on Capitol Hill, one way or another, this President and this administration is going to secure our southern border for the sake of the American people and all of you who enforce our laws. (Applause.)
And the challenges are real. Over the past two years, I’m informed that DEA agents have helped seize more than 50 million pounds of illicit drugs — 50 million pounds that you’ve apprehended — in domestic and foreign operations. Last year alone, DEA captured more than a half a million pounds of meth, 55,000 pounds of heroin, 1.7 million pounds of cocaine, and 1 ton of fentanyl. This is incredible work, and it’s lifesaving work that you’ve done.
We hear the tragic stories every day, in every community of this country, of drug abuse, addiction, overdose. I’ve sat with families at kitchen tables with an empty chair, and we know those stories. But the American people also deserve to know there are tragedies that never happened because of the work of the DEA, and the drugs that you stopped, and the criminal organizations that you disrupt. And, for that, you have our thanks and our admiration.
A reality is, though, as we talk about securing our southern border, all of you know that many of our drugs still enter our nation through our southern border. Ninety percent of heroin, that claims 300 lives every single week in overdoses across this country comes through our southern border. I’m informed that 60 percent of the marijuana that makes its way into the United States from our southern border comes through areas apart from our ports of entry. And, again, it underscores the reason why this President and this administration remain so determined to secure our border.
And we’ll do just that. We’ll do it, as the Acting Administrator said just a few moments ago to me. He said it’s important that we do this end to end — that we have a physical barrier on our southern border, that we deploy personnel, that we deploy technologies.
What the President is calling on the Congress to do today is an all-of-the-above strategy, but “all-of-the-above” includes a wall. “All-of-the-above” includes a physical barrier in the critical, high-density areas where our law enforcement communities says it’s most needed. And we’re going to continue to fight for just that.
The truth is Mexican and Central American drug cartels are the principal wholesale source of drugs for street-level gangs and dealers across the United States. And the American people deserve to know it. Their deadly trade has brought untold suffering to millions of American families.
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for adults under 55 years of age. And, in 2016, across America, 174 people lost their lives to drug overdose every single day.
The illicit drug trade not only claims the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year, it also strengthens those criminal syndicates that the DEA works across this hemisphere and around the world to confront. It strengthens some of the most dangerous criminal syndicates in the world and fuels their heinous activities, from extortion to the unspeakable tragedy of human trafficking.
These threats radiate across this hemisphere and extend the reach — and by extending the reach, rather, of America’s law enforcement community, we are making America safer and more secure in ways that reach far beyond the criminal enterprise of drugs.
Through this work, you’ve helped stem the tide of drugs into our community, but you’ve also impacted these criminal organizations. I particularly would point to the DEA’s extraordinary work in Venezuela, a nation in crisis even as we speak, where your investigations have targeted the corrupt narco-dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, and helped bring drug trafficking indictments and convictions against several members of Maduro’s family and inner circle.
The DEA has played a role, and now we see an Interim President in Venezuela. Freedom is rising in Venezuela, and your efforts have made a difference in empowering the people of Venezuela to reclaim their liberty.
As the free world has watched, you’ve made contributions, there and around the world, in challenging criminal syndicates and corruption in government.
In the days ahead, I just want to promise you that we will continue to stand strongly with each and every one of you to make sure — from our southern border, to every aspect of law enforcement in our country and within this agency — that you have the resources that you need to accomplish your mission and come home safe. I mean, the reality is that you have no ordinary jobs. You deal with a criminal element that is vile and violent without regard to human life.
And I want to assure you that not only do you have the gratitude of your President and our entire administration for the work that each one of you do every day; not only do you have the gratitude of the American people for the work the DEA affects every single day, but I am confident that you also have the prayers of the American people.
And I close today just simply with a prayer from those ancient words that, as you do your work, as you enforce our laws, as you save American families and communities, large and small, from the tragic scourge of drug abuse addiction and the tragedy that follows from it, that we pray that no harm would overtake you, no disaster would come near you, and that He will guard you in all your ways as you guard the American people.
Thank you all. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)