Today is Veterans Day. Please pause to thank a very special group of Americans—the brave men and women of our armed forces who have made the selfless and courageous decision to stand up to protect our country, our families, our rights, and freedoms. We owe each veteran a debt of gratitude and everlasting recognition for their sacrifice.
At the Department of Homeland Security, we are fortunate to have nearly 53,000 veterans, comprising 28 percent of our workforce. I am proud that so many veterans have chosen to continue to serve our Nation as members of the DHS family.
On behalf of all the rest of us, I thank the veterans within DHS for your military service to our country and for your continued dedication to help the homeland.
This Veterans Day, we asked our colleagues who are both immigrants and veterans what becoming a U.S. citizen meant to them. We received a variety of responses, but a common theme was service and pride in becoming an American. Their responses and photos from past years of service are featured below.
“Becoming a U.S. citizen filled me with pride and lit a fire inside me that drove me to want to serve in gratitude for all that I was given.”
- Freddy Duron, Immigration Services Officer, Hialeah Customer Service Unit
Above: Freddy Duron, U.S. Army
"Duty, honor, country; these three words have guided me to become the citizen-soldier I am today. U.S. citizenship opened many doors of opportunities for myself and family. I’m glad to do my part to bear true faith and allegiance. God bless America!”
- David Salazar, Immigration Officer, Fraud Detection & National Security, San Bernardino Field Office
Above: David Salazar, U.S. Army Airborne
“Becoming a U. S. citizen meant a lot to me as it was the first time I felt like I had freedom and gave me all the opportunity life can afford.”
- Kelechi O Eke, Immigration Services Officer, Texas Service Center
Above: Kelechi O Eke, U.S. Army Veteran
“When I became a U.S. citizen it was a sense of belonging. Even though I was a Lawful Permanent Resident serving in the military, I still felt like a visitor. After becoming a U.S. citizen, this became my country. Immigrating to the U.S. and serving this great nation has been a great honor for my family and I.”
- Rashpal S. Virk (Rocky), Immigration Officer, Fraud Detection and National Security, Seattle Office
Above: Rashpal S. Virk, U.S. Navy Veteran
“Becoming a U.S. citizen was a proud moment because my new country accepted me. I could be what wanted regardless of my race or sex.”
- Andy Ffrenchnowden, Immigration Service Officer-2, Los Angeles County Field Office
Above: Andy Ffrenchnowden, U.S. Marines
If you ask Vanessa Hansen why she joined the Air Force, she'd tell you she felt a need to give back to the country that provided her family with asylum from Nicaragua. She entered the United States when she was 16 years old after her father was arrested by Nicaraguan police. After naturalizing in an asylum ceremony, Hansen decided to give back to her adopted country by entering the U.S. Air Force, where she served for almost six years. She continues to serve her country in the Air Force Reserves.
Hansen has been deployed to Afghanistan three times during Operation Enduring Freedom. As a result, she spent a significant amount of time away from her children. Her son was 6 months old for her first deployment and her daughter was 7 months old for her second deployment. The time Hansen spent serving her country away from her family and her children illustrates the level of sacrifice she was willing to pay to her adopted country.
“I wanted to serve because of my feelings of patriotism to the United States. I wanted to give back to my adoptive country for everything that it did for my family and I when we were granted asylum in the United States,” she said.
Hansen spent a considerable amount of time at her favorite duty station, Hurlburt Field, in Florida. She said she couldn’t have done any of it without the support she received from her family. Her husband of 16 years and her parents were instrumental in caring for her small children while she was serving her country thousands of miles away. Hansen said, “It’s an honor to serve in the military and to defend the Constitution.”
Air Force Tech Sgt. E. Vanessa Hansen
Hansen is currently an immigration services officer. When asked what citizenship means to her, she said “honor and family.” Vanessa Hansen is yet another example of a naturalized citizen who chose to sacrifice and serve her new country, both as a solider and a USCIS employee.
We thank her for her service and honor her on this Veterans Day.
During Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, it is important to think about how critical infrastructure is part of your daily life. Critical infrastructure plays a vital role in our national security and prosperity.
The Nation’s infrastructure includes supply lines that bring our communities goods and services like water, transportation, and fuel and communication. It also includes the digital systems that enable us to get cash from the bank, map out the best route to a destination, and power our homes. Often times we take these benefits for granted.
Therefore, throughout November, we want to focus on the efforts that help ensure the security of the vast, interconnected network of systems, products, and services that we all depend on.
DHS works every day with our public and private partners to ensure the security and resilience of critical infrastructure. Over the last year, we have engaged with our partners across the critical infrastructure community to update and release the 2015 Sector-Specific Plans that provides strategic plans for building resilience and reducing risk. As each of the plans are updated we will share them broadly and update their status on the 2015 Sector-Specific Plans page on DHS.gov.
Visit the Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month webpage to learn more about critical infrastructure and why it is important to both our daily lives and our national security. DHS leads this national effort, but it takes communities, business and industry, governments at all levels, and millions of men and women working day in and day out across the Nation to “keep the lights on” in all the sectors that provide food, roads, health care, emergency response, and communications.
I urge businesses and organizations of all kinds to review and revise their plans, processes, and protective measures to ensure strong, resilient infrastructure that can withstand and recover from all hazards. We can all help manage risk to critical infrastructure by being vigilant and reporting suspicious activity.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Hurricane and Jarden were just two of more than 300 DHS employees recognized by Secretary Johnson this week at the 2015 Secretary’s Awards Ceremony, which recognize the outstanding DHS employees on the front lines and behind the scenes who uphold the security of our homeland. These U.S. Secret Service K9s and their handlers protected the White House from an intruder in October. Congratulations to all of our outstanding winners!
Official DHS photo by Jetta Disco | Download High-Resolution Photo (1280 x 854)
Recently, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) awarded a multimillion dollar contract that will equip U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) frontline personnel with a new capability to detect and interdict radiological or nuclear threats.
The award is for small, wearable radiation detector devices that passively monitor the environment and alert the user when nuclear or other radioactive material is present. Known as the Human Portable Tripwire (HPT), this device has the capability to identify the source of radiation and allow personnel to take appropriate action. The technology can also locate the source of the detected radiation and includes communication features that allow the user to easily seek additional technical assistance from experts if needed. These devices are a critical tool for personnel who operate in the maritime environment, at land and sea ports of entry, and within the United States.
The Human Portable Tripwire award represents a successful collaboration between CBP, USCG, TSA, and DNDO to award one contract that meets the needs of multiple DHS components.
This is also an example of the accomplishments we can achieve under the Unity of Effort initiative. From the beginning DNDO worked closely with CBP, USCG, and TSA from the proposal evaluation stage, through the testing and evaluation, to deployment planning. Such collaborative efforts strengthen our homeland security and increase the Department’s ability to thwart potential radiological or nuclear threats.
A Department of Homeland Security official uses the Human Portable Tripwire device to scan for radiological and nuclear threats. (Photo credit: Transportation Security Administration Office of Law Enforcement Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Program)
Some of our nation’s newest and youngest (and costumed) U.S. citizens recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a special Halloween-themed children’s citizenship ceremony at the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Forty-six children from 28 countries for citizenship were recognized. USCIS holds citizenship ceremonies around the country to welcome and celebrate our newest Americans. Official USCIS photo.
We are constantly connected. Even while we’re “offline” on vacation, or away from our computer or mobile devices, chances are we’re still connected in one way or another. More and more, the Internet touches almost all aspects of our daily lives.
Don’t believe it? Think of the systems that help to keep the lights on, the water running, and transportation moving. Or the devices that track your sleep and exercise, point you to an open parking spot, or control the thermostat at your home. All these and more depend on digital networks to function.
This rapidly expanding set of connected devices, what we often call the “Internet of Things,” promises big changes to the way we live our lives. Yet, as we enjoy the benefits of these changes, we must consider the new risks they bring as well. Just as we lock our doors to protect our valuables, Americans must also take steps to protect our devices and information from virtual threats by properly securing all devices that are connected to the Internet.
During National Cyber Security Awareness Month, the Department of Homeland Security encourages you to remember a few important steps to help secure your mobile devices and protect the valuable information they hold (and then practice them all year long!)
- Keep a clean machine. Like your smartphone or PC, keep any device that connects to the Internet free from viruses and malware. Download software updates regularly on the device itself, as well as for the apps you use, since they often contain fixes to protect against malicious activity.
- Disable remote connectivity. Some mobile devices are equipped with wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth, that can connect to other devices. Disable these features when they are not in use.
- Secure your network. Properly secure the wireless network you use to connect Internet enabled devices with strong passwords.
For more information on the Internet of Things, visit the Stop.Think.Connect. Toolkit and download the Internet of Things Tip Card at www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect-toolkit.
To learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2015, visit www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month.
USCIS welcomed 100 new citizens from almost three dozen countries on Oct. 18 during a special naturalization ceremony at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City during the fourth annual People en Español Festival. During the ceremony, former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and Thalia, the singer, songwriter, actress, author, entrepreneur and fashion designer, were recognized as Outstanding Americans by Choice.
New York District Director Phyllis Coven provided the opening remarks and presented the candidates for naturalization. An honor guard from U.S. Customs and Border Protection presented the colors. Jonael Santiago, 2015 winner of “La Voz Kids,” sang the national anthem.
Naturalization candidates listen to New York District Director Phyllis Coven’s opening remarks.
USCIS Director León Rodríguez administered the Oath of Allegiance and welcomed the new Americans as new citizens in a land of possibilities. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas provided keynote remarks and presented the Outstanding Americans by Choice recognitions.
From left: USCIS Director León Rodríguez, Mariano Rivera, Thalia and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas after the Outstanding Americans by Choice presentation.
On Oct. 19, USCIS welcomed 50 new citizens from 24 countries during a special judicial naturalization ceremony in Brooklyn at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The ceremony commemorated the 150th anniversary of the first naturalization in the Eastern District.
Judges watch as naturalization candidates prepare to take the Oath of Allegiance at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
Director Rodríguez provided the motion to the court to administer the Oath of Allegiance. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson gave congratulatory remarks and distributed the naturalization certificates to the new U.S. citizens. Judge Dora L. Irizarry read remarks from Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court, who was unable to attend.
To join the conversation on Twitter and other social media during future naturalization ceremonies, use #newUScitizen.
The Department of Homeland Security, through the unified voice of the Blue Campaign, is committed to fighting the heinous crime of human trafficking. The unfortunate reality is that human trafficking occurs here in the United States and – as our public service announcement depicts – it is hidden in plain sight. After I learned about the growing human trafficking problem in North Dakota, particularly in the oil-rich Bakken region following the oil boom, I traveled to Fargo, Dickinson, New Town, and Bismarck to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground. While there earlier this month, I engaged with federal, state, local, tribal, non-profit, and private sector stakeholders and explored meaningful ways to work together to raise awareness and fight human trafficking in this region. At Blue Campaign we believe that only through the sum of our collective efforts will we succeed in combating this terrible crime.
The Blue Campaign brings together the Department’s diverse resources and capabilities and coordinates closely with the whole community to provide training, promote public awareness, and equip the American public to recognize and report any suspected human trafficking.
Embracing a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking is a key facet of the Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking. On Tuesday, October 6th, I met with local partners providing vital services at the YouthWorks Shelter and the YWCA Cass Clay Shelter in Fargo. From them we learned about the robust local efforts to protect vulnerable youth and support victims of crimes, as well as other at-risk populations.
On October 7th, I visited Dickinson, where I met with local stakeholders for a roundtable discussion that brought together the diverse perspectives of local law enforcement officers, city officials, victim advocates, and even a survivor of human trafficking. I heard first-hand accounts of the challenges the city of Dickinson is facing from human trafficking, and returned with a deeper understanding of the problem and how Blue Campaign can support local efforts through public awareness resources and training.
On October 8th, I met with local advocacy groups and tribal partners from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation to hear their stories and discuss the critical importance of victim-assistance efforts – particularly in tribal communities. Blue Campaign looks forward to a continued engagement with tribal partners to jointly deliver timely and effective public awareness resources to Native American communities.
On Friday, October 9th, I hosted a roundtable discussion in Bismarck. There, I met with educators, city and law enforcement leaders, and local stakeholders to discuss special vulnerabilities of youth in local schools, as well as training resources available to educators, school resource officers, and law enforcement. Later that afternoon, I joined Senator Heidi Heitkamp to visit the YouthWorks shelter in Bismarck, where we learned about local human trafficking victims, the challenges service providers face in serving such a diverse population of victims, and how the Blue Campaign can best support their efforts.
The Blue Campaign is expanding our work in the public health sector through a new partnership with the North Dakota Public Health Association. This partnership will specifically promote the Blue Campaign’s training and awareness materials throughout North Dakota’s healthcare facilities.
North Dakota Public Health Association Executive Director Maylynn Warne spoke of the importance of our new partnership, saying “The goal is to get the materials into local hospitals and work with tribal communities where there’s a disproportionate amount of members who are a part of the human trafficking ring in North Dakota. There’s a large number of American Indian women affected so we want to be able to reach out to those communities and offer resources.”
Working with our range of invaluable partners – like Senator Heitkamp in North Dakota – the Blue Campaign will continue to spread awareness of human trafficking in order to assist victims and bring their traffickers to justice.
There is much more to be done to combat human trafficking, not just in North Dakota, but in cities and communities across the nation. We can’t do this alone. I encourage you to visit www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign to learn more and see how you can get involved.