RELEASE: Gottheimer Demands U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Take Action to Combat Spike in Car Thefts Despite Multiple Calls for Assistance

Nov 02, 2022
Press

PORT NEWARK

DHS Refuses to Engage on the Issue 

Gottheimer Calls on DHS Secretary Mayorkas to Testify Before Congress

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Above: Gottheimer at Port Newark to demand DHS take action to combat the spike in car thefts and illegal export through our ports. 

PORT NEWARK — Today, November 2, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined with local and state law enforcement officials at Port Newark to demand more action from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help local, county, and state law enforcement combat the unprecedented spike in car thefts and stolen cars from being illegally exported through our ports.

In July 2022, Gottheimer urged the Administration to create a new National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft. Gottheimer also urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to boost security at ports to intercept more stolen cars before they are loaded into containers and shipped overseas.

Nearly four months after urging DHS to take action, multiple calls for assistance, and multiple invitations to make public any action being taken to improve port security or tackle illegal exports, DHS has refused to provide an update.

Now, Gottheimer is calling on the following federal action:

·         For the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to engage with the public and answer questions about stolen vehicles being illegally exported overseas through Port Newark.

·         For DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to set up a task force to coordinate with state, county, and local law enforcement, including the port police, to combat illegal exports of stolen cars.

·         For DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other agencies within DHS to immediately strengthen law enforcement presence, increase port security, and improve inspections at ports.

·         For both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the international illicit financing angle of these crimes to help follow the money, whether domestically or overseas.

·         For DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to come before the House Committee on Homeland Security and answer questions under oath to explain his Department’s failings.

“It feels like every other day we read about yet another carjacking or stolen car literally taken out of someone’s driveway as they slept or, brazenly, in broad daylight. Within minutes, these cars are chopped up for parts or they’re brought here where they are immediately put onto ships. Jersey law enforcement is working overtime in our towns and cities — like Chief Dillon and Sheriff Cureton — to capture the criminals, and the coordination within the state deserves our praise. But, frankly, this is not just a local crime issue — it’s a national and international issue with multistate and global crime rings,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) today. “But, the Department of Homeland Security will not take additional steps to crack down on illegal cargo, like stolen cars, moving through our ports. After hearing the concerns of our law enforcement and the constant thefts in our communities, it is clear that federal action must be taken.”

Gottheimer continued, “Now, nearly four months after urging DHS to take action, after multiple calls for assistance, after asking that the federal department show up today, what have they done? No idea. DHS has not made public any concrete action they’ve taken here to improve security at our port or tackle illegal exports. And, despite repeated invitations over the last months, DHS has refused to show up here to provide an update and places where we can work together to take this issue head-on. I’m on the Homeland Security Committee, which has direct jurisdiction over DHS, CPB, and ICE, and despite my many calls to the Secretary to ask what else he and the team needs to fight auto theft, he has refused to engage. I guess he thinks their failures here at the Port and in New Jersey are acceptable. I have a very different opinion — and so do law enforcement and the families I represent.”

Auto thefts nationwide were up 16.5% in 2021. Last year in New Jersey, there were more than 14,000 vehicles reported stolen — a shocking 22% increase compared to 2020. Year after year, these crimes continue to grow. So far, there has been a 19% increase through the first eight months of 2022 compared to last year. In 2022, Bergen County has seen a 54% increase in car thefts.

Gottheimer was joined today at Port Newark by Allendale Police Chief Michael Dillon, Deputy Chief of Detectives for the NJ Division of Criminal Justice in the Office of the Attorney General Tony Butler, and Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton.

Watch the press conference here.

Below: Gottheimer at Port Newark today.

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Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. In light of yesterday’s horrific shooting here in Newark, I want to begin by taking a moment to remind all of us that every day, our brave officers wake up, put on a bulletproof vest, kiss their spouses and children goodbye, and then put their lives on the line to protect us. I am praying for the two police officers who were shot and praying for their families. This was a heinous crime, and the lawless thug must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We must always remember to get the backs of our police who keep us safe.

We’re here at the Port of Newark this morning to demand more action from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help local, county, and state law enforcement combat the unprecedented spike in car thefts. We need much better coordination and tougher action from Homeland, Customs and Border Patrol, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop the steady stream of cars flowing into containers and onto ships right here at the Port and headed overseas. 

It feels like every other day we read about yet another carjacking or stolen car literally taken out of someone’s driveway as they slept or, brazenly, in broad daylight. Within minutes, these cars are chopped up for parts or they’re brought here where they are immediately put onto ships. 

Jersey law enforcement is working overtime in our towns and cities — like Chief Dillon and Sheriff Cureton — to capture the criminals, and the coordination within the state deserves our praise. But, frankly, this is not just a local crime issue — it’s a national and international issue with multistate and global crime rings. 

This is a national homeland security concern requiring the involvement of federal law enforcement, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (or CBP). 

We can’t just let criminals steal cars and drive them right onto ships headed out of the country. We need to crack down and cut the engine on carjacking and car theft.

But until we cut off the head of the snake, the criminal masterminds here in the U.S. and overseas, we will never truly succeed in shutting down this massive criminal ring. 

And the head of the snake is at Port of Newark, at the Port of Baltimore, and at ports globally, especially on the western coast of Africa. If you can get to the head of the car theft ring and their ability to make money by selling and shipping these vehicles overseas, then we can help cut off the incentives for people to steal the cars in the first place. It’s the difference between getting the guy who is selling the drugs on the street corner and the big boss who is making all of the money at the top of the pyramid.

Believe it or not, nationwide auto thefts were up 16.5 percent in 2021. Last year, here in New Jersey, there were more than 14,000 vehicles reported stolen — a shocking 22 percent increase compared to 2020. And the 2020 numbers were already up from the year before. Year after year, these crimes continue to grow. So far, there has been a 19% increase through the first eight months of 2022 over last year. In 2022, Bergen County has seen a 54% increase in car thefts. It’s appalling. 

As we heard from Allendale Police Chief Dillon, a major problem fueling car theft is the ease of which vehicles can be illegally exported overseas right through our ports. We’ve seen federal reports that only reinforce that. Criminals know that once they steal a car, it’s smooth sailing right to the ports for them to cash in.

The Port Authority Police have done their jobs protecting our ports from crime on the ground. So have our county and locals. They chase thieves. They go after them everyday. These brave men and women serve on the front lines here and at other critical transportation points, protecting our region day-in-and-day-out against serious criminal and security threats like terrorism and human trafficking. 

But, the Department of Homeland Security will not take additional steps to crack down on illegal cargo, like stolen cars, moving through our ports.

After hearing the concerns of our law enforcement and the constant thefts in our communities, it is clear that federal action must be taken.

In July, mirroring what the Attorney General has done in New Jersey, I called on the Administration to create a National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate between federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft. I also called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to immediately beef up security at our ports, so that we can intercept more stolen cars before they get loaded into containers and shipped overseas.

Now, nearly four months after urging DHS to take action, after multiple calls for assistance, after asking that the federal department show up today, what have they done? No idea. DHS has not made public any concrete action they’ve taken here to improve security at our port or tackle illegal exports. And, despite repeated invitations over the last months, DHS has refused to show up here to provide an update and places where we can work together to take this issue head-on. 

I’m on the Homeland Security Committee, which has direct jurisdiction over DHS, CPB, and ICE, and despite my many calls to the Secretary to ask what else he and the team needs to fight auto theft, he has refused to engage. I guess he thinks their failures here at the Port and in New Jersey are acceptable. I have a very different opinion — and so do law enforcement and the families I represent. 

That’s particularly odd given reporting from within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledges that thousands of vehicles have been stolen or carjacked across the tristate area and are being illegally exported to Africa from the U.S. through terminals located in and around the Port of Newark. Every weekday, every weekend, we have more cards stolen. Yet, DHS is MIA.

Even with those statistics, DHS refuses to say if they are strengthening law enforcement presence or improving inspections at ports to intercept more stolen cars before they are loaded into containers behind me and shipped overseas. Despite my repeated calls for more coordination with our state and local law enforcement, they are refusing to speak publicly about what actions they are taking. 

Instead, DHS and Secretary Mayorkas have chosen to hide from the public and allow the issue to continue and grow. 

That’s why, today, I’m calling on DHS and the Secretary to engage with the public and answer our questions about stolen vehicles being illegally exported overseas through the Port of Newark. The public deserves answers. I’m also calling on the Secretary to set up a Task Force to coordinate with state, county, and local law enforcement, including the Port Police, on this critical issue. I have already reached out to the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey. This is an international crime ring that needs the attention of federal law enforcement and prosecutors.

As part of this effort, we need Customs and Border Protection and other agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to immediately strengthen law enforcement presence and improve inspections at our ports. And, the Treasury and Justice Departments must look at the international illicit financing angle of these crimes — so that we follow the money, whether that’s in our country or overseas.

And I am once again calling on the Department of Homeland Security to immediately beef up security at our ports, so that we can intercept more stolen cars before they get loaded into containers and shipped overseas. If we are able to stop the shipments, it will help cut off the head of the snake. 

We need them to double down, not back down. And we need to invest in law enforcement at all levels to ensure they have what they need to protect themselves and our communities against these thieves stealing cars, breaking into homes, and furthering other violent crimes. We must also enforce the laws already on the books, so that violent criminals are not released back into our communities to repeatedly victimize additional families. Thieves, at all levels, need to know there will be consequences for their actions. 

I’m proud that my bipartisan, bicameral Invest to Protect Act — to make critical, targeted investments in local law enforcement — recently passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support — 153 Republicans and 207 Democrats voting for the bill. My bipartisan legislation is supported by the National Association of Police Organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police, and local New Jersey law enforcement organizations and departments, including input from the Port Authority PBA, the New Jersey State PBA, and the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police.

It’s also long past time for Secretary Mayorkas to come before the Committee on Homeland Security — which I sit on — under oath, to answer the many questions that need answers and to explain his Department’s failings.

Secretary Mayorkas must actually focus on this issue and make it a top priority just as our state has.

Again, I’m proud that there has been incredible state coordination by New Jersey’s auto theft task force, which includes representatives of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice and several local police departments.

I am also proud to cosponsor the bipartisan Auto Theft Prevention Act, that will provide state and local law enforcement agencies with federal investment to help combat auto thefts and stolen vehicle trafficking.

As New Jersey’s Attorney General Matthew Platkin put it: car thefts are not an urban problem or a suburban problem in our state. They are a statewide problem, and it’s driving violent crime. And he’s right. These stolen vehicles aren’t just being sold off at the port. Many of the perpetrators are using the stolen vehicles in violent crimes across the state. 

Our friends and neighbors are literally being dragged out of their vehicles or having their cars stolen from their driveways with their families just steps away.

We’ve seen the success from Jersey’s state level task force but imagine how effective our fight against car theft would be if every level of government worked together and had the ability to utilize the extensive resources available to the federal government. This whole-of-government approach and cooperation would provide valuable crime fighting information to our hardworking state and local law enforcement.

In short, when it comes to law enforcement, lowering crime rates across the country, and combating car thefts, you need to invest to protect.

By working together at all levels, I know here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you, God bless our troops, and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America.

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