Trump law enforcement chiefs paint grim picture

Story highlights

  • Sessions called on people to "refuse to allow the current gang violence to be the status quo"
  • Kelly referred to marijuana as "a potentially dangerous gateway drug"

(CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly say they are on a mission: dismantle transnational criminal organizations and stop gangs from pushing drugs over the southwest border.

The two agency heads painted grim visions of a nation under siege on Tuesday -- using similarly ominous rhetoric in their promises to fight against illegal drug cartels.
"We are a nation under attack," Kelly said during a speech at George Washington University. "We are under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knife point, dealing poison to our youth or killing just for fun."
"Like terrorists, TCOs (transnational criminal organizations) inflict unthinkable brutality, and regularly behead their victims," Kelly added. "They are utterly without laws, conscience or respect for human life."
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Speaking before almost a dozen heads of federal law enforcement agencies, Sessions specifically focused on the gang, MS-13, and drew a link between lax enforcement of immigration laws and criminals run amok.
"MS-13 has become a symbol of this plague that has spread across our country and into our communities," Sessions said. "Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors."
"They've killed mothers alongside their children and vice versa. They have gang raped and trafficked girls as young as 12 years old," he added.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to praise Sessions' efforts.
"AG Sessions is doing a fantastic job: announced today new steps to dismantle violent gangs like MS-13. I promised to get tough and we are!" he said.
Sessions and Kelly both say they are following the President's executive order aimed at combating transnational drug cartels.
So what's the plan for accomplishing this Herculean task?
The details remain to be seen.
Kelly called for a national strategy to reduce drug demand Tuesday, citing the massive amount of drugs interdicted. The DHS chief said cocaine seizures have risen nearly 40% since October, along with an uptick in heroin and methamphetamine seizures.
"When you consider that CBP seized an average of four tons of drugs every day in (fiscal year) 2016 -- and that number's going up -- you see our nation has a serious drug problem," he said.
But Kelly put to rest any doubt Tuesday that marijuana was not part of the master plan for destroying an "illegal drug enterprise."
"Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs," Kelly said. "DHS personnel will continue to investigate marijuana's illegal pathways along the network into the US, its distribution within the homeland, and will arrest those involved in the drug trade according to federal law."
The comments stood in contrast to remarks Kelly made just two days ago.
"Marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday -- instead focusing on cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Sessions' views on marijuana, however, have remained unchanged.
When asked on Tuesday about any link between organized crime and the legalization of marijuana in some states around the country, Sessions said the drug is a "financial moneymaker for them" and "definitely a cartel-sponsored event."
"I returned from the border last week and they told me that quite a number of the people they arrest are hauling marijuana across the border as illegal entrants themselves or illegally coming across the border," Sessions said.
Sessions and Kelly plan to visit border regions of Texas and California later this week.