The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was born from a remarkable moment of national unity. It’s time for leaders to stop using it to sow so much division.
I had the privilege of working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration. During this time, I constantly met colleagues whose journeys brought them to DHS because they were moved by 9/11. Over and over, I was inspired by their stories that always centered on a desire to help prevent a terrorist incident from ever again claiming lives on our land.
I have no doubt that hundreds of thousands of DHS frontline employees continue to be driven by this critical mission. Yet this is not what DHS is making the news for these days.
Instead, we watch stunned as DHS personnel teargas peaceful protesters in our nation’s capital to arrange a photo opportunity.
We read about them nabbing people off the streets in unmarked cars during protests. We learn they conducted surveillance and distributing reports about U.S. journalists reporting on racial justice protests.
Many of us spoke up with broken and angry hearts as DHS instituted policy that separated parents from their children at the border, leaving children defenseless, sometimes falling victim to abuse and other times unable to be reunited with their family.
Most recently we heard testimonials of high-level DHS staff who sounded the alarm about what they witnessed. Calls for action to prevent the recruitment and rising threat of far-right extremists met only by inaction from their leaders.
And even when it comes to the commonplace responsibilities, we see chaos. Today, I have immigration clients who are just some of up to 75,000 immigrants with applications that are already approved but whose immigration cards are being withheld, reportedly due to printing contract issues. These are men, women, and children from around the world, each with a unique journey, who are denied the privileges they worked so hard to earn.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reported that the top two officials at DHS were not lawfully appointed. It’s time to vet and confirm leaders who will ensure that the department acts within its mission and our laws and the U.S. Constitution.
The Department of Homeland Security was created to make us safer. Our leaders there have a duty to avoid abuses of power and protect human rights; a duty to protect American soil from harm; a duty to prepare for the worst and help coordinate responses when the worst occurs.
Let’s remember those we lost, honor the inspiring first responders who worked to save and rescue others, and ensure that our leaders protect both our people and our rights in their work to protect our homeland.
January Contreras is an attorney and fourth-generation Arizonan. She served as a senior advisor to Secretary Janet Napolitano during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak and led violence against women initiatives at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the first term of the Obama Administration.
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