Ronald Reagan Building Amphitheater
10:45 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Secretary Nielsen. Thank you for that kind introduction, and more to the point, thank you for your leadership of the extraordinary men and women who sit before me today and who you represent all across the United States of America. I am told that you are, in fact, the first employee of the Department of Homeland Security who’s ever gone on to lead it. Would you all join me in thanking, again, the Sixth Secretary of Homeland Security — (applause) — Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. I’m proud of you.
To all the honored guests who are here, all the dedicated men and women of this great Department, and all of you who wear the various uniforms and see to the security of this nation and defend our people: It is an honor to be with you today, on behalf of the President of the United States, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Fifteen years of making America safe. (Applause.)
And as I stand here today and I think of all those 15 years, and I think of having been a new member of Congress when this agency was forged, I know that the Department of Homeland Security is not just 15 years old, it is 15 years strong. (Applause.)
And I want to bring greetings to all of you from a leader who’s absolutely committed to making this Department and our nation stronger still. As you all know, he is a great champion of men and women who protect our country, patrol our borders, and enforce our laws. I bring greetings, this morning, from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
When the President spoke to you last year, he said, and I quote, “Homeland Security is in the business of saving lives.” And that’s exactly what you’ve been about for the past 15 years.
The Old Book says that, “If you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect then respect.” And I’m here today on behalf of our President and on behalf of a grateful nation to pay a debt of gratitude and honor and respect to the men and women of DHS — all of you who work tirelessly with honor and integrity to “safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.” Give yourselves a round of applause. (Applause.)
And as the Secretary said, I was there on Capitol Hill on 9/11. I watched the Congress come together, setting politics completely aside to forge this Department, taking the counsel of some of the best minds in both political parties and the best minds in security of this nation, and to move quickly to adapt the security of this country to a near — new era of threats.
I served as a member of Congress with two great Secretaries of this Department. In fact, I’ll never forget that day, I, with member of Congress, we were gathered in the basement at the Capitol Hill Police Headquarters, and President Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor was on the phone speaking to members of Congress. He said to us then, “The only thing we know for sure is that they want to hit us again and they want to hit us worse.” And I just knew then that Tom Ridge was the right man to be the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and we are honored to have you here, Mr. Secretary. (Applause.) We truly are.
In the early days of this agency as well, it was led by the capable hands of another great expert in security, someone who I had the privilege of working with on the Judiciary Committee. And I saw the way that he steered this agency to that careful balance between protecting the American people and protecting the liberties of our nation. And Secretary Michael Chertoff, we are honored to have you here and we are grateful for your service. (Applause.)
And I just saw him a few moments ago going back to the White House to get right back to work. But I know you heard today from Secretary Nielsen’s immediate predecessor, an American hero who has devoted his entire life to serving the nation he loves. Join me in thanking John Kelly — (applause) — for his great season of service to this agency.
And to all of you who work at this Department every day, thank you. Thank you for stepping up to protect our homeland and our people. Day in and day out, across the country and, frankly, across the wider world, the men and women of DHS work tirelessly to prevent terrorist attacks, secure our borders, protect critical infrastructure, defend our interests in cyberspace, and ensure the resilience of our communities when disasters strike.
America is safer and more secure because of you, because of your service, because of your courage and sacrifice. And President Trump and I, and our entire administration, are grateful every day for the service you provide.
As I said before, this Department was forged in the crucible of crisis. But over the past 15 years it has distinguished itself as a cornerstone of America’s national security and law enforcement enterprise.
Just over one year after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, President Bush signed The Homeland Security Act, which pulled together 22 separate agencies, from 7 different Cabinet departments to form a unified Department of Homeland Security. Since that day, March 1, 2003, the men and women of DHS have worked tirelessly to keep America safe. And so you have.
Through the TSA, you protect America’s arteries of commerce and transportation systems. Through Customs and Border Protection, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, you enforce our nation’s immigration laws, secure our borders and ports of entry, to prevent terrorists, drug dealers, violent criminals from entering our country and threatening our people.
Through the Coast Guard, one of the five Armed Forces of the United States, you defend America’s borders on the high seas, you safeguard our maritime economy, fight transnational criminal syndicates, stop the flow of illicit drugs, and save the lives of Americans in harm’s way.
Last year, the heroes who serve on the Long Blue Line performed countless search-and-rescue missions across America in the midst of hurricanes, storms, floods, fires, and mudslides. And let me just say — and you’ve already heard it from the President more than once — the men and women of the United States Coast Guard have inspired the nation. (Applause.) “Always Ready,” always serving with “Honor, Respect, Devotion, and Duty.” We’re proud of our Coast Guard.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, you steward the nation through those natural disasters. For my part, I saw the professionalism of FEMA’s officers firsthand when I traveled to communities that were devastated by last year’s hurricanes and wildfires –- California, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since January of last year, I’m proud to report that FEMA has actually administered more than $7.6 billion in disaster assistance to Americans and American communities. (Applause.)
And through the Secret Service — some people I spend a fair amount of time with — (laughter) — you do so much more than looking after the First and Second Family. You safeguard the nation’s financial systems as well. You protect many who serve.
The President and I couldn’t be more grateful for the devotion of men and women, the dedication of men and women of the Secret Service. It’s something that I’ve really come to appreciate over the last 13 months. They stand a quiet sentry; they stand out of the way. But they stand in the gap. Would you thank the Secret Service for me? (Applause.) Seven thousand men and women. True American patriots “worthy of trust and confidence.”
But no matter what part of DHS you work for, the men and women of this Department are widely respected and well known. DHS has become synonymous with your professionalism and dedication to mission.
So, today, let me assure you and let me promise you: As your mission goes forward from this 15th anniversary, you have a champion in President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
We live in a world of widening challenges and unknowable threats. To protect America’s homeland, we all know that we have to detect and defeat those who would dare threaten us before they reach our shores.
That’s why the President has signed executive orders to strengthen our counterterrorism efforts and empower the men and women of DHS to implement tough new security protocols across every route a terrorist might use to enter the United States, including enhanced screening and vetting measures.
Already, these stricter measures have enabled you to prevent potential terrorists and criminals from entering the United States. Here at home, our administration stands with those who stand watch on America’s borders. We’re proud of every one of you. As the President told a group of Border Patrol agents last month, we are with you 100 percent. (Applause.)
From the first day of this administration, the President has worked tirelessly to give the men and women of DHS the resources and support you need to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders.
Since the start of our administration, arrests of MS-13 gang members are up more than 80 percent, and illegal crossings at our southern border have been cut by nearly 50 percent in just one year. (Applause.) The President observed yesterday, illegal border crossings have actually fallen to a 45-year low. And that’s a credit to your dedication and your professionalism.
But as all of you know well, we still have much work to do. I saw this firsthand two weeks ago, when I traveled with Secretary Nielsen to the Rio Grande Valley Sector of our southern border. We toured and spoke with the great men and women who serve the Hidalgo Port of Entry. We met with great Americans that stand a sentry there every day and keep us safe. We heard about the challenges they face, the legal loopholes that allow some that might be a threat to this country to have access.
Despite recent progress, our Border Patrol still apprehends more than 1,100 people illegally entering our country every day. And the American people deserve to know it. In fact, every day the Department interrupts the attempted entry of seven known or suspected terrorists –- roughly 2,500 per year.
One of the most shocking stories we heard was in the last fiscal year, as a reminder about the sacrifices our Border Patrol makes: attacks on our Border Patrol agents had increased by 73 percent. This is simply unacceptable. The frontline officers and agents who secure our borders and protect our communities are heroes and we will give them the support they need to do their job and come home safe. (Applause.)
That’s why the President and our administration have called on Congress to invest more than $21 billion to provide our frontline agents with the personnel, the technology, the equipment, and the facilities to do their job. And we’re seeking $18 billion for a border wall system because, as the men and women of DHS know, walls work. And we will build that wall for the American people and our security. (Applause.)
As President Trump has said, in his words, his highest loyalty, his greatest compassion, his “constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities.”
And as we continue to fight every day for an immigration system that puts hardworking Americans first, know that we will always stand with those of you who stand on the frontlines to protect our nation and our security.
As I close, I, standing among all these great public servants, I know we all realize it’s been a challenging time in the life of our nation. Unspeakable acts of violence visited upon our citizens in Parkland, Florida; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and in earlier days in other places around the country, in California and Florida.
And I want to promise each and every one of you, as the President said yesterday, we will continue to call on this Congress and leaders around the country to act, to move swiftly, and we will answer the call to make our schools and our communities safe. (Applause.)
We mourn with those who mourn, and we grieve with those who grieve. But as the President said yesterday, now is the time to act. And we will work closely with members of Congress in both political parties to move forward legislation and policies that will advance the security of the American people and our families.
All of you in this room know something about answering the call. Each of you, and those that might be looking on in this agency across the country, have answered the call of service. You’ve considered the people of this country more important than yourselves. You’ve dedicated your lives to protecting the homeland. And for 15 years, you’ve done just that with distinction and with integrity. And the American people are grateful.
And I truly do believe that with your continued courage and commitment, with President Donald Trump in the White House, with the strong and continued support of representatives of the American people, and with God’s help, we will keep our nation safe. We will make our nation more secure than ever before.
So I commend you. I commend you for 15 years of homeland security. And may God continue to bless each and every one of you and your families as you serve and protect the families of this great nation. God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
11:03 A.M. EST