U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Friday to continue their tough approach to illegal immigration, warning of the dangers of cross-border gangs and sanctuary cities.
Speaking in San Diego on the second day of a trip through the U.S. Southwest, where border concerns are most prominent, Kelly told reporters, "We will continue to expand our approach to deterring illegal migration. That includes constructing a physical barrier, supporting it with technology, and patrolling it with dedicated and professional men and women of DHS. It also includes our approach of prosecuting anyone who pays traffickers to smuggle people into our country. That includes especially those who smuggle children."
Kelly, Sessions and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, spent Friday meeting with officials and observing immigration detention operations on the San Diego-Tijuana border.
Sessions used the encounter with reporters to criticize sanctuary cities, which he said sabotage the effort to rid the country of illegal immigrants who commit crimes, sometimes as part of cross-border gangs.
"Sanctuary jurisdictions put criminals back on the streets," he said. "They help these gangs to refill their ranks, and put innocent life, including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants, in danger by refusing to share vital information with federal law enforcement."
Sessions said he urged jurisdictions that allow sanctuary cities to exist "to reconsider." He said, "Our federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors stand ready to work with you because every neighborhood, every street corner, deserves to be free from gang violence."
Prodded by a reporter, Sessions also defended his statement of apparent indignation from earlier this week that a judge "sitting on an island in the Pacific," a reference to the U.S. state of Hawaii, could hold up President Donald Trump's new travel ban.
Sessions answered Friday's query by noting that the judge in Hawaii was just one of hundreds of U.S. federal judges. He vowed that the ruling would be reversed.
Hawaiian politicians have objected to Sessions' characterization of Hawaii, saying the tone was insulting.
Protesters gathered at the news conference as well, to declare their objections to the federal government's stance on immigration, including the building of a wall along the border with Mexico. The organizing group, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, has complained that officials have "declared war on our communities."
The statement echoed those of some community leaders in El Paso, Texas, a day earlier, who objected to Sessions' use of terminology such as "ground zero" and "beachhead" to describe their community on the border. During his Thursday visit, Sessions was describing El Paso as important territory in the struggle against cross-border drug cartels and violence.
"That language and that attitude and that rhetoric is un-American," said El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, according to the El Paso Times.