Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R.

Gonzales at Press Conference Regarding Immigration Reform
Houston, Texas May 19, 2006
Good morning. It is good to be back home, here in Houston, where I’ve had the opportunity to meet with community leaders as well as members of federal, state, and local law enforcement. We had a good discussion about the President’s comprehensive immigration reform proposal. This is an issue I care deeply about. After all, we are talking about nothing less than the future of America. All of us recognize that America is a welcoming nation that continues to be built by immigrants. Nowhere is that more true than here in Texas, where each and every day immigrants live out the American Dream. Based on our discussions, let me share some thoughts with you. As the chief law enforcement officer of the land, I stress the importance of cooperation and communication between federal authorities and local communities. We will need to work together, to reform our immigration policies and instill a culture of law-abidingness, where it has been lacking. Today I want to go beyond the media focus on the temporary deployment of 6,000 National Guard members to support the Border Patrol. Other parts of the President’s proposal involving state and local law enforcement deserve just as much attention. As we discuss enforcement, it is important to acknowledge that federal immigration prosecutions are up 41 percent from FY 2000 to FY 2005. We will also build on a record of increasing funding and personnel for the Border Patrol. Under the President’s plan, we at the federal level will be working more closely than ever with state and local law enforcement, to enable them to play a greater role in stopping illegal immigration. Here, in Houston and Harris County, local law enforcement is now assisting federal authorities in enforcing criminal immigration law. We look forward to seeing more instances of cooperation, as in last year’s human trafficking case that rescued over 100 victims.

But local law enforcement needs training and financial support to aid in enforcement of our immigration laws. The President’s plan provides both. Over time, the numbers of federally trained state and local officers involved in helping to enforce our immigration laws will amount to more than 6,000 temporarily deployed National Guard. These officers will be part of the permanent, professional law enforcement in communities most impacted by immigration. The President’s plan emphasizes cooperation between federal agencies, especially the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local law enforcement agencies. DHS is sharing information with state and local agencies. Its Law Enforcement Support Center will typically answer requests for immigration-related information about a suspect in less than an hour. If suspects are identified as aliens, the local police here in Houston are able to ascertain their immigration status. Under existing training and grant programs such as Operation Stonegarden, state and local law enforcement may directly support the U.S. Border Patrol. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be training 250-500 state and local law enforcement officers to deal with illegal immigrants. Selected states with large immigrant populations and southern border counties benefit from federal training and grants. We will enhance these and other training and grant programs to make state and local law enforcement a more important part of our border security. What the President’s critics call amnesty is in fact its opposite — the attempt to create a culture of law-abidingness that had not existed before. It is contrary to our self-interest as a nation of laws for upwards of 11 million people to continue to live in the shadows. Let me conclude by emphasizing that immigration reform as law enforcement cuts across major departmental priorities I have set forth as Attorney General: Protecting us from terrorism and from violent crimes and gangs; stamping out drug trafficking, especially in methamphetamine; and defending our civil rights and wiping out the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. The President has produced a robust and practical plan for working with all levels of law enforcement to reform our immigration system and allow the American Dream to flourish. I invite your questions. ###