NBC NEWS: Vice President Mike Pence speaks at ICE headquarters in Washington Friday, defending federal immigration authorities. Pence goes on to say that many Democrats have been speaking out against ICE, and are openly advocating for the abolition of ICE. (Full video below transcript.)
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Secretary Nielsen, Acting Director Vitiello, and to all the courageous Americans who every day are protecting national security and upholding public safety, it is my great honor at a critical time in the life of this agency, to address the dedicated men and women of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thank you.
And I bring greetings this morning from a great champion of law and order. And, as he reminded and wanted me to convey today, a leader who stands without apology with the men and women of ICE and law enforcement at every level, I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.
Just this week, President Trump said that the men and women of ICE are, in his words, "Incredible people," and I know that to be true; incredible patriots. The president sent me here today with a very simple message. While I stand before you today at a time when some people are actually calling for the abolition of ICE, in this White House let me be clear, we are with you 100 percent. And as the president said last night, we will always stand proudly with the brave heroes of ICE and our Border Patrol.
We will. Now, before I go further, let me give thanks to a few other great leaders. First and foremost, I want to thank Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen not just for the warm introduction, but more importantly, for her strong and resolute leadership of our Department of Homeland Security. She has stood strong for the courageous men and women of this agency, and the American people, and our safety have been advanced as a result. Will you join me in thanking the sixth secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, for your service to the United States?
Let me also take a moment to recognize a new leader of this agency. As of Monday of this week, but a man who has spent more than 33 years enforcing and upholding our laws, defending our borders, and seeing to the law and order and the protection of the American people. Join me in thanking Acting Director Ronald Vitiello for a career of service and for stepping up to serve our nation at such a time as this.
And finally, let me just say thank you to all of you, all of you who are here today and all of you who are watching all across this nation at the more than 400 offices of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
You're on the frontlines of enforcing America's laws and ensuring our -- the vitality of this nation and the security of our people. And you have our thanks, the thanks of our president and I want to assure you, you have the thanks and the admiration of the American people. It's been true, ever since this agency was founded more than 15 years ago.
Over the years, I've had the privilege to meet countless ICE agents and Border Patrol officers. I was recently with the secretary at El Centro Station, Imperial Valley, California. And I -- I -- I never fail to be inspired when I -- when I'm around men and women who have answered a call to uphold the laws of this nation throughout this great and storied agency. And the truth is, your -- your courage, your determination, your dedication to the law and to the American people inspires me, and inspires the people of this country.
At this -- at this agency, as the secretary just described, more than 20,000 patriots stand every day -- investigators, field officers, special agents, analysts -- each and every day, stand for the -- the rule of law in this nation, and stand for the interest of the American people. You step up to enforce our system of legal immigration.
And the truth is, every day, every day, men and women of ICE also confront criminal illegal immigrants who endanger our communities and prey on our most vulnerable. Our ICE agents are busy every day, taking them off the streets. You've -- you've fought vicious gangs like MS-13. You've stopped human smugglers, child traffickers, disrupted drug cartels that are poisoning our youth and stealing lives of promise. You've apprehended terrorists who've come into our country to challenge and -- our way of life, and harm out people.
The truth is, the statistics really don't tell the tale, but they're worth repeating. In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 4,818 gang arrests, including, they took from the streets 796 members of the MS-13 gangs, and our communities are safer as a result.
There were nearly 33,000 arrests by ICE personnel, criminal arrests, individuals who came into this country illegally, and then pursued crime against our people. Nearly a million pounds of narcotics were seized by ICE agents in 2017 alone. And most touchingly to me as a father, ICE agents rescued 518 human trafficking victims, and 904 children subject to child exploitation were rescued by ICE agents all across America. We are enforcing our laws, and protecting the most vulnerable.
You do all this because you love your country. You do all this because you're called to serve. But I want you to know, President Trump and I, and the American people understand that behind these statistics and this work, you also -- you do so oftentimes without regard to your personal safety. Men and women of ICE, like all of law enforcement, you -- you've -- you've answered a call that requires you to -- to put the lives of your countrymen ahead of your own. And I want you and your loved ones to know that we understand this. We appreciate and understand the risks that you face when you come into contact with violent criminals, when you -- when you enforce the law, when you remove drug dealers and gang members from our streets that threaten our families.
In recent years, tragically, attacks on you and your fellow law enforcement officers have risen dramatically. In 2017, attacks on your fellow DHS colleagues at Customs and Border Protection increased by nearly 75 percent. And at ICE, assaults on your officers nearly tripled in 2017.
But remarkably but not surprisingly, these attacks have not diminished your commitment or your courage or your determination to enforce our laws. I see it in your faces as I'm addressing you today. And I see it every time that I -- that I'm with ICE and border patrol personnel.
The challenges only steel the resolve of courageous men and women who have the character to serve, and I want to assure you: These challenges and the challenges you face have only strengthened the resolve of this president and this administration to stand with you ever step of the way.
I want to assure you, as I travel across this country, that the American people know -- know that the men and women of ICE are American heroes. That you're doing an important job. You're often doing a dangerous job. And you're doing it for them.
And I -- I want to promise you that we're going to continue to work to make sure that this agency has both the support, the respect and the resources that you deserve to do the job that you have been called to do. The American people support you because they know how important your mission is.
But as we all have seen in the press lately, the heroes of ICE are being attacked and demonized for the work that you do at an unprecedented rate in recent weeks.
ICE has been targeted with protests across this country, not only on the job but in public square and social media. And for many of you, even at your homes.
The hashtag, #abolishICE, has now taken its place on the internet. Protesters chant, "No ban, no wall, no borders at all" at protests around the country.
ICE officers and -- and leadership have had their personal information exposed on social media, and threats to their families have followed this.
Now let me be very clear on this point, the American people have every right to engage in peaceful protest. But these threats against ICE officers and their families must stop, and they must stop now.
The sad fact is, though, it isn't just the expression of their -- the radical left that's been speaking out against ICE lately. The truth is that opposition of ICE has moved to the center of the Democratic Party itself.
Just when you thought the Democrats couldn't move farther to the left, leading members of the Democratic Party -- including candidates for higher office -- are actually openly advocating the abolition of ICE, an agency that protects the American people and our communities every single day.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, have all already called for ICE's abolition. A leading candidate for governor of New York actually even, appallingly, called this agency a terrorist organization.
Now let me be clear on this point, the American people have a right to their opinions, but these spurious attacks on the ICE by our political leaders must stop.
The type of language that's being used to describe the men and women of this agency and the work that you do every day is unacceptable.
But you know, it's not just me saying it. Despite these calls from top Democrats even today, the liberal editorial page of the Washington Post had a lead editorial entitled "ICE is the Wrong Target for Outrage." In their editorial, and I quote, The Washington Post acknowledge that" the 200,000 employees of ICE manage more than deportations," they wrote, "Its investigative division handles cyber crime, human trafficking, narcotics, counter proliferation involving nuclear materials, other military wares, child exploitation."
They went on to say, and I quote -- in the Washington Post -- "Those are all vital and legitimate functions of government, as is deportation. They aren't going to be abolished nor should they be."
Now the truth is that calls to abolish ICE are not just outrageous, they're irresponsible. Abolishing ICE would mean more illegal immigration, people being able to come into our country. Last year, ICE actually removed 226,000 illegal immigrants from our communities and our country.
Abolishing ICE would mean more violent crime. Last year, ICE arrested more than 127,000 immigrants with criminal convictions or facing charges for breaking our nation's laws, including criminals who were responsible for 50,000 assault offenses and more than 11,000 weapons offenses, 2,000 kidnapping offenses, and 1,800 homicide offenses.
Abolishing ICE would mean more vicious gangs like MS-13, and I've already discussed with you the extraordinary progress in the last year that we've made removing dangerous MS-13 gang members from our streets. The truth is that the arrests that were made by ICE represented an 83 percent increase from the last full year of our previous administration. That is real progress that's making a difference for the safety and security of our families and our communities.
Abolishing ICE also would mean more drugs in our schools and on our streets. Last year, ICE has seized nearly 50 tons of narcotics, nearly a million pounds of heroin, fentanyl, and other deadly drugs that criminals and cartels are smuggling into our country.
Abolishing ICE also would mean more human trafficking. And as I mentioned, last year 518 human trafficking victims, nearly a thousand victims of child exploitation.
Abolishing ICE also would give terrorists a new chance to exploit immigration loopholes. It's exactly what happened before September 11, 2001. Because of the tireless work of ICE and the entire law enforcement community over the past 15 years, I truly do believe the men and women of this agency over the last 15 years have played a critical role in ensuring that no major terrorist attack occurred on our shores, and you deserve to be credited.
The record speaks for itself, and it's a record of accomplishment and security. Every day, ICE makes America safer and more secure, and every citizen of this nation is better off and safer because of the work that you do.
And so today -- today I want to -- I want to make it clear to all of you and all of those looking on, under President Donald Trump, we will never abolish ICE.