THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Madam Secretary, and thank you for your great leadership. You all may be seated.
To the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Schultz, Vice Admiral Buschman, Director Padilla, Director Ayala, and to all of you serving in the uniform of the United States of America at every level, all of you who serve and protect the people of this nation: It is my honor to be here with all of you at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth. Thank you for your service. (Applause.)
It is amazing to think, as we reflected earlier today on the work of the joint task force -- it's amazing to think of all the different agencies and all the different courageous service that's represented here, and the difference that each and every one of you make.
The Department of Homeland Security: Some 240,000 men and women who work each and every day to protect the homeland, to protect American families, to protect our cities, and to protect the nation against the scourge of drug addiction, the impact of criminal syndicates.
So as I begin my remarks today, let me bring a word of gratitude, admiration, and appreciation from your Commander-in-Chief. I bring the thanks of the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President asked me to be here today to hear the latest on the efforts of the joint task force, but also just to express a word of appreciation to each and every one of you and, to no less extent, your families for the service that you render to the people of this country each and every day.
I hope some of you had a chance to see the State of the Union Address last night. The President of the United States addressed the nation. He laid out a bold, bipartisan vision and called on the Congress to join the American people, to join each and every one of you, to choose greatness. But it is something I know each and every one of you do every day.
The President called for unity in Washington. He asked members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to come together to "build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock," in his words, "the extraordinary promise of America's future."
And as the President said in his State of the Union -- and I say with equal conviction, looking out at all of your shining faces and thinking of all that you represent here, across this department, across this country -- indeed, the state of our union is strong and it is safer because of the work that all of you do every day. And the American people know it. Give yourselves another round of applause. (Applause.)
And we know that your service comes with sacrifice for you and your families. And, frankly, your character shines through each and every day through deployments, through missions that you undertake. And the nation, frankly, saw your character in high relief in recent weeks when the President took a strong stand for border security during the government shutdown that lasted some 35 days.
Let me say to each and every one of you: The President and I couldn't more grateful or couldn't be more proud of all our federal employees and their families who rose to the challenge, stayed on task. But we are especially grateful to the men and women of the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. You stood tall, you stood your watch, you did not relent. And you have our thanks for your commitment to your mission and your duty. Thank you all. (Applause.)
Thank you for standing your post. And just know this President and I, and our entire administration, have your back. And even as we speak today, the Congress is working on funding not only for the Coast Guard, for the Department of Homeland Security, but for other critical agencies of the government. And we're working in good faith to resolve these issues.
But I promise each and every one of you, just as you stand and fight every day for the safety and security of the American people, President Donald Trump and I are going to stand and fight to get you what you need to accomplish your mission and keep the American people safe. That's our promise. (Applause.)
We recognize, and I just heard in my briefing, your job is more challenging because our border is not secure along the southern border of the United States. A porous border along the United States gives drug traffickers and criminal cartels too many opportunities. And the traffic that the Coast Guard, the traffic that the joint task force interdicts all across the east coast through the Gulf of Mexico, and along the southern border of this country, is reflective of that reality. Enforcing our laws and protecting the American people is what all of you do best.
And I just want to assure you, as evidenced in the President's words last night, as evidenced in the determination that he and our administration has reflected, we're going to continue to fight to get you what you need to accomplish that mission. And we are going to secure our border one way or another. (Applause.)
Now, it is impressive to learn, Admiral, about this joint task force and to think about the interagency efforts. It really is remarkable to think about it. Joint Task Force-East, and West, and Investigations, do an extraordinary job leading a coalition of partners from across DHS, Coast Guard, Customs, Border Protection, Immigrations Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship, Immigration Services, ICE. And of course, let's not forget, our great partners in local law enforcement who work with all of our federal agencies every single day. We respect and appreciate them as well. (Applause.)
You also work hand-in-hand with the Department of Defense and our international partners to advance the security and prosperity here at home and, frankly, all across the Western Hemisphere.
I just heard a briefing on our investigations division, and learned about how we have, literally, forward deployed to deal with those who would threaten our families and threaten our communities long before they're ever anywhere close to the border of the United States of America. And those international partnerships are vital to our efforts.
The work you do every day saves lives, and it's remarkable to think about that. And I hope each and every one of you understands that the American people know it, from your Commander-in-Chief on down: The work that each and every one of you does every day stems the tide of narcotics that comes into this country that literally claims the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. We cannot account for the lives that are saved, but we know they are many.
We think of the great news yesterday. I was just informed that the Coast Guard Cutter Forward, a sister ship of the Bear that I was just on, homeported here in Portsmouth. It literally offloaded more than 15 tons of cocaine that had been seized over the past two months during counter-narcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific. Join me in thanking the whole crew of the Forward for a job well done that is saving American lives. (Applause.)
The truth of the matter is, none of you in this room have to wonder whether you make a difference, because you do, every single day. And I want tell you, as I travel all across this country, I hear about the admiration of all of the agencies represented here. I hear the expressions of support, and I expect very recently you heard it as well, from communities and families that reached out to yours and just took the opportunity to let you know how grateful they are to each and every one of you. And I can assure you that is the -- that is a reflection of the view of all of the American people.
You know, I was on Capitol Hill on September 11, 2001. We didn't even have a Department of Homeland Security then. I'll never forget seeing the smoke rise from the Pentagon. And I'll never forget when we traveled to Ground Zero a week later, and saw the unspeakable devastation of the evil that had descended there.
You, in a very real sense -- all the agencies here, now under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security and the capable leadership of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen -- you're all a part of an American response that keeps our nation safe, that leans into the fight against those who would harm our families, who would seek to profit through narcotics, who would enslave people through human trafficking and the brutality that's represented there, and also who would seek to come into our country with criminal intent or terrorist intent.
You make a difference every day. And I want you to know that we all know it, and we're grateful to each and every one of you. And I want to promise you, for all that you do every single day, President Donald Trump and our administration will always have your back.
Our record, I hope, speaks for itself. Within a month in office, the President signed an executive order to strengthen the authority of DHS, the Coast Guard, and law enforcement at every level to combat transnational criminal organizations, and cartels, and gangs that threaten the American people and are constantly changing in their methods.
Last August, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, updated the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act to make it easier for all of you and all those serving on the frontlines of law enforcement to bring maritime smugglers to justice. And we're grateful for the support in Congress that made that possible.
And, of course, since the first day of this administration, President Donald Trump has worked to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. In our first year in office, the President signed into law the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan, including the largest military pay raise in nearly 10 years. (Applause.)
And as the Commandant knows, there was more than $12 billion for the Coast Guard to rebuild your aging fleets and strengthen the vital assets of your mission. So congratulations to you all. (Applause.)
So we've made incredible progress in the last two years, but the truth is, as I said before, we recognize that your jobs and all the agencies represented so well here -- your jobs are as difficult and dangerous as ever, largely driven by the security and humanitarian crisis along the southern border of the United States. And we do have a crisis on our southern border.
It's extraordinary to think that, every single day, some 2,000 people attempt to come into this country illegally. And those are just the people that are apprehended by agencies and Border Patrol so well represented here. Two thousand people a day coming into the United States of America. It's a security crisis.
Last year alone, some 10,000 individuals with prior criminal convictions were apprehended attempting to come into the United States of America. But's it's also a humanitarian crisis. I don't need to tell all of you with responsibilities along our southern border, gathered here in this room, that for the first time ever, the majority of people seeking to come into our country illegally are families and unaccompanied minors -- putting an enormous burden on our system. And it's a reflection of human traffickers and cartels that I learned today charge upwards of $5,000 per person to entice vulnerable families to take the long and dangerous journey up the peninsula -- a journey that, for most, results in physical and sexual abuse along the way. And for some, even worse.
We have cartels and human trafficking organizations -- criminal syndicates -- that take advantage of vulnerable families and take advantage of loopholes in our laws and our porous borders. And as the President of the United States said last night, "This is a moral issue." We have a moral duty to secure our border and reform the immigration laws of the United States of America. And we will do it. (Applause.)
And the cost -- the cost, you all know, is extraordinary. Every day our southern border remains unsecured gives criminal syndicates and drug traffickers and human traffickers another opportunity to threaten our families and harm people on both sides of the border.
The men and women of the Coast Guard and DHS know firsthand about these transnational criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America -- the drug cartels that fuel their deadly trade. They represent one of the greatest national-security and public-health threats in the history of this country.
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for adults under 55 years of age. In 2016, across America, 174 people lost their lives to drug overdose every single day.
The illicit drug trade not only claims the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, it also strengthens; it strengthens the ability of those criminal syndicates in the world that engage in their heinous activities, from extortion to human trafficking, and worse.
The challenges and threats that you personally face in the line of duty underscore the reason why we are so determined to give you the resources that you need to secure our border and protect this homeland. And we will do it.
President Trump, as he described last night, has sent to Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on our southern border. It's really an all-of-the-above plan. It's a plan that includes humanitarian assistance; more law enforcement personnel; drug detection technology at our ports of entry; closing loopholes that enable child smuggling; and a proposal for a new physical barrier.
As the President said last night: A smart steel barrier on our southern border. Walls work, and we need to secure our border, including with a physical barrier. And we will do it one way or another.
We're going to secure our border. That's our promise to each and every one of you. And we're going to support each one of you in the efforts that you make on behalf of the American people.
In the days ahead, you can be confident that just as each and every one of you step forward to protect this nation every day, to stand up for the American people, we're going to continue to stand with you to give you the resources and the support that you need.
So thank you all for coming out today. It's a great honor
to meet you. I hope to get a chance to say hello to as many of you as possible in person. It's the greatest honor of my life to serve as your Vice President, and I thank you for coming and spending a few minutes with me today in the midst of all of your duties.
So I came here to say: We're with you. We're going to stand with you. We're going to continue to fight to give you the resources that you need to protect the homeland and secure our border. But as I said before, I also came here just to say thanks. The Good Book says, if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect.
Let me assure each and every one of you, the American people honor your service. We respect the way you've answered the call for this country.
I was sitting down in the Mess Hall of the Bear just a few minutes ago. And one of those Coast Guardsmen -- I looked across at him and I asked him, "Why did you join the Coast Guard?" He'd been in about 12 years. Talked about how he remembered 9/11. He just wanted to do something for his country and to protect his country.
And I think what's remarkable about that answer is it's very typical of, I know, how all of you feel. Public service is a calling. Public safety is a calling. It's a calling to a mission to consider others as more important than yourself; to count your life as less important than the lives of your countrymen.
And so, I really came here to say thank you. I came here to say thank you. Thank you to each and every one of you for your service. Thank you for what you do to keep the American people safe each and every day. And just know that while you have our thanks, you have our support, I'm also confident that you do have the prayers of millions of Americans.
So I'll close with that prayer as well, that "no harm will overtake you no disaster will [ever] come near [you] and [may] He guard you in all your ways," as you guard the people of the United States of America.
So thank you. God bless you. And God bless America. (Applause.)