Washington, DC - Remarks by Vice President Pence to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program Directors and Deputy Directors:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And why don’t you join me in thanking Kellyanne Conway for her great work on the President’s commission to combat opiate abuse and addiction, and for her great words today? Kellyanne, thank you so much. (Applause.)
It’s an honor to be with all of you today. Director McDaniel, thank you also for your remarks and your outstanding leadership.
It is an honor to be here today with so many courageous men and women, so many representatives of law enforcement at every level from all across this country — leaders of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. On behalf of the First Family, welcome to the White House. (Applause.)
And while I get started, let me bring greetings from a friend of mine. We just finished up a meeting; it accounts for a little bit of my delay today. But I have to tell you, I sure do hope you all know what people who wear the uniform of law enforcement, I think, know all across this country: You have a champion in the 45th President of the United States of America. And I bring greetings and gratitude from President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President and the First Lady — just like my wife and I, and our family, our entire administration — are, frankly, humbled by the service and sacrifice of those who protect and serve all across our country. In fact, First Lady Melania Trump today spoke to the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, and is actually visiting the Office of National Drug Policy today. It is a commitment of our First Family. I can assure you it is a commitment of our family. And I know it’s a commitment that your family lives out each and every day, and we hope you’ll convey our deep thanks to them as well.
You know, my uncle was a police officer. I grew up traveling from the small town in southern Indiana, where my family lived, to go up to my Dad’s old hometown in Chicago. And I’ll never forget the times that we were there and my uncle would put on his uniform and head out, and me and my three brothers and two sisters would always be so inspired.
You know, you have no ordinary job. The truth of the matter is, when you put on that uniform every day and you head out, that you and your families know what the stakes are. So let me just assure you that you are heroes to your President, to his Vice President, and you are heroes and your families are heroes to every American. And we thank you for your service. (Applause.) We do.
What brings us here today — and I trust is evident to each one of you, in working in this critical federal and state effort — is that President Trump has made the fight against illegal drugs a top priority of this administration. You heard his commitment to that mission just two days ago in a State of the Union Address, as the President told the nation that we are committed to put “drug dealers…out of business” and “truly make America safe.” (Applause.)
And for more than 30 years, all of you involved in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program — “HIDTA,” for short — have played a critical role in the fight against drug trafficking. You target places where the drug crisis is at its worst; the counties where the overwhelming majority of illegal narcotics are smuggled into our country and into our communities. You literally are on the frontlines in the war against illegal drug abuse and addiction.
To combat the crisis, the HIDTA program has forged an unprecedented cooperation, evident here today in this room, between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement authorities from the FBI, to the DEA, to city police chiefs, and county sheriffs. It is a nationwide, every-level commitment to combat drug abuse and addiction in America, and we are grateful for your leadership and service. We truly are. (Applause.)
You know, there’s no program like it anywhere in America. You share information, best practices with one another. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder to arrest smugglers, shut down manufacturers, get the deadliest substances off our streets.
We all know the statistics of the heartbreak, the loss of life, and devastated families from drug abuse and addiction, and the nefarious drug trade in this country. But you are also responsible every day for the stories that never happened. The drugs that never got to the streets. The families that were never shattered. And I want you all to know that the American people, this President, and our administration understand that and are grateful for it.
Today, this program is active in 29 key regions across the country, spread across all 50 states. From the southwest border to Appalachia, more than 21,000 law enforcement personnel are working every day to fight gangs, cartels, drug runners — large and small. Our administration has created the first new HIDTA initiative in 17 years when we brought this critical program to Alaska. We are growing a program that is winning in the fight against drug abuse and addiction in America. (Applause.)
And this program has been a great success. In our first year in office, the men and women of the HIDTA program broke up smuggling rings with ties to major transnational criminal organizations. You disrupted or dismantled more than 2,700 drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. You also got more than 23,000 firearms off our streets and made more than 90,000 arrests. All told, you seized more than $16 billion in illegal drugs. Thanks to your courage and dedication, those drugs never reached our streets, our cities, our families. The American people are grateful. (Applause.)
You know, when I was governor of the state of Indiana, I put a special emphasis, as the President has nationwide, on the scourge of opiate abuse and addiction. I’ve sat with families at kitchen tables where there’s an empty chair. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve also sat with people who have overcome addiction and are on the road to recovery. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of the work that you’re doing, and I want to assure you of our admiration and our gratitude.
These statistics are easy to breeze over, but you all look into the eyes of people that have been victimized by this nefarious trade, by the drug cartels, by drug dealers, and those who would profit from selling these poisons to our children, our families, shattering communities.
The progress we’ve made, I think, is better understood in individual stories, in individual lives. And you all have been saving lives and you’ve been changing lives.
And we’ve been making progress. Progress is a result of your leadership and your courage. And I believe it’s also the result of our President’s commitment to you and to your mission.
Since day one of this administration, I’m pleased to report we’ve taken action to give you the support you need to accomplish your mission. Within the first month of taking office, President Trump signed an executive order to empower law enforcement to combat transnational criminal organizations, drug cartels, and gangs more effectively.
He signed into law the historic opioid bill that enables law enforcement to combat the opioid crisis as never before. He’s taken action and signed legislation to combat the terrible reality of human trafficking that so often follows a similar path of drug smuggling.
And this President has not only been giving you the resources, but after challenging years for those in the uniform of the United States, this President and this administration have given the men and women of law enforcement the respect that you deserve every single day, and we always will. (Applause.)
We’re fighting for you because we know every day you’re fighting for the American people. You’re considering the lives of others more important than your own. And we know it’s a calling, and it’s a profound calling that involves sacrifice for you and your families. But you’re making a difference.
But despite the progress we’ve made, we know there are a — literally, a river of illegal drugs still flows toward our country every single day. I received a briefing just yesterday at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, down in Virginia, and saw firsthand the flows of narcotics coming out of South America and Central America.
I also learned of the daring Coast Guardsmen who just sailed into port with more than 15 tons of cocaine they had captured from drug smugglers at sea. This mission is succeeding every single day.
But nowhere is the crisis of illegal drug trafficking more evident, or our challenge more profound, than at our nation’s southern border. And you know firsthand how serious this crisis is because the southwest border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area is among the most active in this entire program.
Last year, Customs and Border Protection seized more than 827,000 pounds of illegal drugs entering our country at our southern border — and that’s just the drugs that they found. Mexican and Central American drug cartels, as you well know, are the main wholesale provider of drugs to street gangs and dealers across America, and their deadly trade brings suffering and devastation to families and communities across this nation.
As the President said on Tuesday night, “Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities.” Three hundred Americans die every week from heroin, more than 90 percent of which comes across our southern border. And all told, across the nation, as you know, at the front of this fight, more than 200 people lose their lives to drug overdose every single day.
Our hearts grieve for the loss of so many innocent lives, and they break for the families that have been left behind. We honor them by remembering them, but we also honor them by redoubling our commitment to secure our border and bring justice to those who would profit from their suffering. (Applause.)
Just last week, Director Carroll unveiled our administration’s National Drug Control Strategy. He described it aptly as a “strategy of action.” And so it is.
And that strategy lays out our comprehensive plan to combat illegal drug use and drug smuggling, and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program is essential to our efforts. We believe in combining the capabilities of the federal government and the expertise of local law enforcement. It’s a powerful combination, and you can be confident of our continued support.
We’ll also make new and renewed investments in law enforcement at every level, as President Trump renewed his call for Congress to enact stronger “drug protection at our ports.”
And when it comes to the southern border, as Congress is involved in negotiations, even at this very hour, let me assure you: We will not rest or relent until we have the technology, the personnel, and the barriers required to secure our southern border. We will build that wall one way or another. (Applause.)
So thank you again. Thank you again for your presence here today, but more importantly, thank you — thank you for your service. I said before, when I started about — I remember looking up at my uncle when he would walk out the door in that uniform. And, frankly, all of my — all the heroes in my life are people that wear uniforms.
Men and women of our armed forces, I’m the son of a combat veteran from Korea, and I’m the proud father of a United States Marine. And I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
But let me assure you, the pride — the pride that every American feels for those who serve in that uniform equally applies to you.
And we know it would seem fashionable in recent years to criticize law enforcement officers whenever tragic circumstances would develop in communities around the country. But I want to assure you that this President’s attitude, our attitude, is emblematic of the attitude of the people all across this country who feel gratitude to each and every one of you and to your families for the service that you render as you protect and serve our communities and in this fight against drug dealers, drug abuse, and addiction at every level of government.
I want you to know that you have the support of this President, this administration. But also know you have the support of the American people.
And one other thing: I want to assure you that you have the prayers of millions of Americans every day who understand that you have no ordinary jobs. I mean, the truth of the matter is, as you walk out the door in the morning and you kiss your loved ones goodbye, you know — and they know — you have no ordinary job.
And so just know you go with our support, our renewed determination to give you the resources and the tools you need to drive this mission forward at every level of government to protect our families and confront the scourge of drug abuse and addiction and drug dealing as never before in this country.
But also know that you go with our prayers. And my prayer today would be to claim those ancient words that no harm would befall you, no disaster would come near you; that He would guard you in all your ways as you protect and serve the American people.
So thank you. God bless you. Stay on it. And we’ll stay with you every step of the way. (Applause.)
And with your continued courage, with our President’s leadership, and with God’s help, I know we will end the scourge of illegal drugs, and we will make America safer than ever before.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.