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The White House, the Department of Homeland Security and some members of Congress presented a unified front supporting Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel as the agencies have faced criticism over enforcement of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies.
The Monday event in the East Room of the White House included about 150 CBP, ICE and law enforcement officers along with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, Acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello, and officials representing border jurisdictions.
CBP Agent Adrian Anzaldua related how on Aug. 11, with the alert of a CBP canine, he discovered 78 illegal immigrants inside a locked refrigerated truck north of Laredo, Texas. “I quickly asked for backup, and backup got there, and the subjects were transported back to the checkpoint, and all of them were in good health,” he said.
Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Derek Bergman led Operation Matador, a joint operation focused on MS-13 and other transnational gangs on Long Island, the New York City metropolitan area and the Hudson Valley.
“The response started, really, with the leadership that supported us and was able to allow us to go out there and do what we had to do,” Bergman said. “And it really speaks to the collaborative effort that we have with our state and local partners and other federal agencies, that everybody was able to get together and assist each other in different facets of the operation. And hopefully, we were able to make a difference in the communities, because that’s ultimately why were doing it, was to make those neighborhoods safe for the people that inhabit them.”
President Trump recognized the families of fallen CBP officers Luis Aguilar, Nicolas Ivie, Rogelio Martinez, and Brian Terry, and unveiled a letter he sent to state and local leaders asking them to publicly express support for ICE and CBP and to cooperate with “both organizations in removing dangerous criminal aliens from our communities.”
“Tragically, the brave men and women of ICE have recently been subjected to a nationwide campaign of smears, insults, and attacks by politicians shamelessly catering to the extreme elements in our society that desire lawlessness and anarchy,” Trump wrote, segueing from anti-ICE protests to the 9/11 attacks “carried out by foreign nationals who exploited our lax immigration laws and defrauded our immigration system in order to murder nearly 3,000 innocent people.”
The White House said that the letter, which began with the general salutation “Dear America’s State and Local Leaders,” was sent to governors, lieutenant governors, state attorneys general, mayors, state legislators, and county sheriffs.
DHS also sent out fact sheets on “the life saving missions” of ICE and CBP.
At the event, Trump charged that “a coalition of open borders extremists … people that don’t mind crime” have “waged an unprecedented assault on American law enforcement” — protesters, he said, who “have no guts; they just have big, loud mouths, and we don’t want to put up with that.”
Trump then veered into a campaign speech, predicting that “we’re going to have much more of a red wave than you’re going to see as a phony blue wave” because “blue wave means crime.”
Vice President Mike Pence discussed his trips to the border to visit with agents in Texas and California. “I know that you make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation and for the safety and security of our people. Last year, CBP accounted for more than 310,000 apprehensions at our borders, including more than 8,100 dangerous criminals,” he said. “…To all of the members of law enforcement here, be confident that you have the support of the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
The White House event coincided with an administration push for $5 billion in border wall funding from Congress; the Senate version of the Homeland Security bill includes $1.6 billion in funding, and may be punted to after midterm elections to avoid the timing of a showdown not just with Democrats but between Republicans.
Trump has gone back and forth between threatening to shut down the government at the end of September over border wall funding and then saying he’s open to negotiations.