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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ridge at Port of Miami Meeting Employees

Aired January 30, 2003 - 10:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you back to Miami, Florida, where who new homeland security director Tom Ridge is addressing his new employees right now.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: And I thank my fellow workers; members of the Coast Guard, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Customs, Transportation Security Administration, INS, Secret Service, Federal Protective Services, FEMA and so many other agencies, some of whom join us this morning. And I would also like to extend my appreciation to the leaders from this great city and state who are also here to mark this historic occasion.

For me, this is a comforting and determined, and yet a very solemn moment, and I suspect it is for you as well, because all of us know why we are here and may we never forget. Some 16 months ago 19 hijackers took nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans from us, along with hundreds of citizens from 80 other nations, and on that haunting September 11 innocent Americans came face-to-face with a new kind of enemy, a new reality, a permanent condition; terrorism on American soil.

These enemies are villains. They are provoked by centuries of hatred, armed with ruthless tactics, absent any respect for human life, all lurking in shadows preparing for their next catastrophic and murderous attack. They are killers. They are empowered by the zealotry of evil, the ignorance of radicalism and the resources of tyrants we cannot ignore. They are insidious, a vast paradox of personalities and groups, some spontaneous, some very methodical. Yet they are all intent on doing us harm.

So let me be clear, while their actions surely broke our hearts, they did not and will not break our spirit. Their threats may never end, but neither will America's resolve. To our enemies, we do not cower; we are coming after you. Whether you are a nation bent on tyranny, a terrorist group or a cell, as the president has said, "We will prevail." Whether your threats come via a suitcase or on a suicide bomber, pathogens in the air or armed passengers on an airplane, no matter the weapon of choice, we will use every tool at our disposal to stop you.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, our great country has become not only a stronger nation, but a safer nation as well.

RIDGE: Working in partnership with Congress, states and cities and the private sector, we have moved rapidly to map and protect our critical infrastructure, such as power plants and financial systems, seal our borders from terrorists and suspicious cargo, and prevent and prepare for attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

Our commitment and our resolve is clear: We will do everything in our power to defend our nation against rogue regimes. Americans can take comfort and pride in the progress, but also in the courage and vision of a president who quickly realized that we really needed to do more to unify our people, our priorities and our programs under a single line of authority, a Department of Homeland Security.

As the president has said many, many times, "The only path to safety is the path to action." So I welcome this opportunity to discuss the nation's 15th and newest Cabinet department, and what you can expect from us at DHS in the months and the years ahead.

Let me first say that the president is committed to funding DHS efforts so that, as he said in the State of the Union Address, "We will be ready to answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people." This year he's requested $41.3 billion, the highest total ever proposed by any administration for homeland security. What's more, the Department of Homeland Security's overall fiscal year '04 budget represents a 64 percent increase in spending since just two years ago.

Until just under a week ago, no single federal department had homeland security as its primary mission. Now, it is our mission. The people you see before me and behind me and to the sides, those protecting our borders, our airports, our waterways, our financial systems, our energy and chemical facilities, more importantly our fellow citizens and our very way of life, they understand what their mission is.

RIDGE: They also understand that their challenge is enormous.

Just think about what the new department will encounter -- and this is just some of what we will encounter on a day-to-day basis -- today more than 1 million people -- just today -- more than 1 million people will cross our borders. Some by car, some by sea, some by plane. Today -- just today -- 1.6 million passengers will board planes traveling within our own borders. Today 95,000 miles of coast line will meet our agency's watchful eye. Today 2.4 million pieces of luggage will pass through this country's 429 commercial airports. Today tons of imported food products will be inspected. Today thousands and thousands of visa and green card applications will reach the desks of INS offices.

And as you well know, ladies and gentlemen, that's just a partial list of what you and I will have to deal with every single day.

The sheer depth and breadth of this nation, the magnitude of what occurs here from sea to shining sea means simply that one slip, one gap, one vengeful person can threaten the lives of our citizens at any time, in any number of ways. Whether it's a member of TSA inspecting baggage at an airport or the border patrol officer examining trucks for explosives or the INS agent checking the authenticity of immigration papers -- the good people, the good men and women of Homeland Security are not complacent. They are ready. They are doing everything they can in the best way they can every day not for themselves, but to make America safer.

RIDGE: Oh, surely, the establishment of this new department, the reorganization of 22 agencies to strengthen our country, to improve our security is one sizable undertaking. We know, that notion certainly hasn't escaped us. But we will organize to mobilize. Make no mistake, organization will matter because from the homeland to the hometown, it will lead to outcomes -- it will lead to outcomes that better protect our country. And one of our first goals for the new department is to integrate old functions in a new way to make us stronger and safer. And as a first step to accomplish this, we will restructure our border agencies.

Under the very able leadership of Asa Hutchinson, our department's newly confirmed undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, this restructuring will establish two new border units. One of those, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, will take our border entities -- Customs, INS, including Border Patrol and APHIS, Agricultural and Plant Health Inspections Service -- and merge them into one unified force at the border. So instead of four faces at the border, America will have one. The focus here is to help legitimate goods and people enter our country swiftly, and keep dangerous people and their weapons out.

The second arm of our Border and Transportation Security Service will be the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This bureau will enforce the laws once the borders are crossed. We want to make absolutely certain to the very best of our ability that questions of immigration status, customs issues, interdiction laws and detention concerns receive the full attention of our officers and our criminal investigators.

I'm pleased to publicly recognize the very accomplished attorney who's been asked to move from the Department of Justice to head this bureau, Mike Garcia.

Mike, would you please stand and be recognized?

(APPLAUSE)

Now, this morning the president sent this border agency reorganization plan to Congress, and we intend to produce, with your help, a more robust enforcement and protection capability to secure our nation. It is a very important first step in integrating the old functions so that the new department can be even more effective.

WHITFIELD: As we continue to monitor developments out of Miami, the port there where homeland security secretary Tom Ridge is speaking and addressing about 700 people in the audience.

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