Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke Monday at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno to over 1,000 school resource officers at a national school safety conference. As KUNR's Bree Zender reports, Sessions briefly focused on school safety, but spent much of his speech on issues surrounding undocumented immigrants.
As Sessions arrived at the National Association of School Resource Officers Annual conference in Reno, he was met by more than 200 protesters outside the casino.
Briceida Castro is from Las Vegas. She was among the protesters.
“I come from a very mixed status family,” Castro said. “And I live with the fear of my family being deported at any second.”
The scene from outside the casino was in stark contrast to what was happening inside. As Sessions came to the stage, he was met with a standing ovation from school officials. Sessions then spent over half of his speech time on the Trump administration's policy on unauthorized border crossings.
"You may not know that our government spends large sums of money each year to protect and care for unaccompanied alien children who are recklessly sent to the United States by family members or others,” Sessions said. “It's a billion dollars a year. If we refuse to prosecute these adults for illegal entry as many of our critics want us to do, that would be a disservice, I think, to the people of this country."
Despite recently defending family separation at the border, Sessions supported President Donald Trump's executive order to stop the practice. When Sessions did discuss school safety, he praised officers who helped prevent major tragedies in schools over the past year.
"These kids probably know a law enforcement officer personally. They see how noble a calling it is to serve and protect,” Sessions said. “And I'm proud to say that in this Department of Justice, we understand that. We back the blue.”
Sessions then announced the justice department will distribute $2 million for recovery from the Las Vegas mass shooting in October, in addition to the $1 million already given. He also said the department will distribute $25 million throughout the country to improve emergency reporting for schools.
Though the overwhelming majority of school resource officers in the crowd stood for another standing ovation as Sessions ended, the reactions to the speech itself were mixed, with some wishing he had spoke more to school safety.
Kris Mason works for the Metro Police Department in Nashville, Tennessee. He works closely with local schools to develop emergency plans. Mason said he sees more federal support now than he has in years past.
"Politically speaking, it's refreshing,” Mason said. “Just his opinion and his standpoint. The support that we see. You didn't see a lot of that from the previous administration. I understand they kind of had their own agenda of what they were working on. But you've never heard anybody directly come out and say 'You know, we love you, we support you. We are going to invest in you.' That spoke to me a lot."
The National Association of School Resource Officers is a non-partisan group. They invited Sessions to speak at the conference after February's mass shooing at a school in Parkland, Florida.
The annual conference continues this week in Reno through Thursday. Several of the workshops and panels focus on prevention plans to avoid major tragedies.