Last week I went to New York to honor the men and women who aided the rescue of US Airways #1549.
By now, we all know the heroic tale of the pilot and crew who landed the distressed plane in the middle of the Hudson River against impossible odds.
What is less known is the immense rescue operation that took place immediately afterward and the heroism of dozens of individuals who put their own lives in danger to ensure that everyone on the aircraft made it safely to shore.
Among those responders was Coast Guard Petty Officer Ben Foster, who after seeing a passenger slip and fall from the plane’s icy wing, entered the frigid water to rescue her. In the process, he ruptured an artery in his leg, putting himself in even greater danger. He remained at the scene for hours, seeking medical attention only later that evening.
For his service, the Coast Guard awarded Petty Officer Foster the Meritorious Service Medal. The Coast Guard also awarded a Unit Commendation to its Incident Response Team, and it awarded Petty Officer Brittany Catanzaro – a member of the Coast Guard reserve – with a Meritorious Public Service Award.
Also assisting in the rescue were numerous independent boaters, water taxi operators, and ferry services. These Good Samaritans dropped what they were doing and rushed to the sinking aircraft to see how they could help. They worked side-by-side with first responders and law enforcement to ensure all 155 passengers and crew were safely rescued.
To honor their service, the Coast Guard awarded the Certificate of Merit to New York Water Taxi, Ken’s Marine, Miller’s Launch, World Yacht, and The Staten Island Ferry.
It awarded the Public Service Commendation to Circle Line Sightseeing and issued the Meritorious Public Service Award to Mr. Scott Koen. And it gave the Distinguished Public Service Award to New York Waterway.
Without this support, the triumph we celebrate today could have easily turned tragic.
These efforts remind us that individuals and businesses often have an important role to play during emergencies – even serving as first responders. As Secretary, one of my priorities is to continue to expand our engagement with citizens and businesses who want to be involved in our efforts. We have a lot to gain from their participation.
The rescue also reminds us of the importance of training and exercising before the fact. First responders at all levels must know what to do when it comes time to execute a mission – because seconds count. The successful rescue of Flight #1549 is a case in point
The Coast Guard Public Service Awards Ceremony
February 5, 2009 – U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan (front) and Special Agent Gregory Tate (rear) brief Secretary Napolitano on the presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast."
This past week, the Midwest was hit by a terrible ice storm that took the lives of several dozen of our fellow citizens, damaged homes and property, and left many across the region without power. More bad weather is expected to continue over the next several days.
I've been in touch with the Governors of Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas and moved quickly to provide federal support. FEMA continues to be actively engaged in the region, providing generators, meals, cots, blankets, and bottled water to residents. It is also helping with debris removal, conducting damage assessments, and assisting with disaster claims. We’re also in touch with the relevant power companies to see how quickly permanent power can be restored.
We are working as quickly as we can to help the victims of this storm and return a sense of normalcy to their lives and the region.
Next week I'll be visiting Kentucky and Missouri to meet with state and local officials and identify what else the federal government can do to support their citizens as they plan for recovery.
Beyond dealing with these recovery efforts, I'll also be traveling to Kansas and Iowa to work on our preparations for the upcoming flood and tornado season, which is just around the corner.
The time to prepare is now. Indeed, last year FEMA faced 90 federally-declared disasters and provided assistance to 36 states. That included the back-to-back hurricanes of Gustav and Ike, deadly tornadoes, Midwest floods, and wildfires.
Thanks to the good work of our DHS employees and everything we're doing now, we'll be ready to respond quickly and support the men, women and families in communities across the country.
At the time of its formation in 2003, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) faced many challenges in meeting its mandate to restore integrity to America’s immigration system. Perhaps chief among these challenges were the growing number of fugitive aliens residing in the United States and the need to reinforce the relevance of removal orders issued by immigration judges. Fugitive aliens are those who have been ordered removed from the country but have failed to comply with that order. The 9/11 Commission recognized that this growing population represented a vulnerability to our national security and reported that abuse of America's immigration system and a lack of interior enforcement were among the many problems exposed by the 9/11 hijackers. ICE's Fugitive Operations Program was created in response to Congress’ mandate that this population be identified, arrested and removed from the United States.
And the fugitive operations teams have done just that. In 2007, ICE's efforts to aggressively target fugitive aliens resulted in the first-ever reduction in the population of fugitive aliens residing in the United States. In fact, over the last 18 months, that population has declined more than 80,000 or 12 percent.
In addition, the fugitive operations teams are targeting the most dangerous fugitive aliens and so far this fiscal year, have arrested 179% more criminal fugitive aliens than at the same point in time last fiscal year. Roughly 20% of immigration fugitives have been convicted of a crime in the United States, but all have proven their refusal to comply with immigration law. While ICE prioritizes our efforts by targeting fugitives who have demonstrated a threat to national security or public safety, we have a clear mandate to pursue all immigration fugitives – even those with no documented criminal history in the United States. History has proven that is a wise strategy.
In 2001, Marvin Gutierrez-Palma was ordered removed from the United States to El Salvador. Gutierrez-Palma had no criminal history at the time and was not detained during his removal proceedings. Like many others, rather than comply with the removal order issued by the immigration judge, he absconded and became an immigration fugitive. Today’s New York Times article regarding the Migration Policy Institute’s report on the ICE National Fugitive Program suggests that his sole status as an immigration fugitive would not have justified efforts to locate, arrest and remove him from the United States. In fact, the Times article would have you believe that targeting fugitives like Gutierrez-Palma represents a waste of taxpayer resources. We wholeheartedly disagree. As for Gutierrez-Palma, he was located through another of ICE’s enforcement programs – the Criminal Alien Program – after his 2007 arrest and conviction for rape, child molestation and forced imprisonment.
It is not good public safety policy to wait until immigration fugitives--who have already defied U.S. laws--commit a violent crime before we target them for arrest and removal. The risk-based model that ICE uses places the highest priority on the dangerous criminal fugitives who pose a potential threat to the community but it also ensures that we continue to pursue and arrest all fugitive aliens. Increased public safety through immigration enforcement can only be achieved through such proactive efforts. The goal is to prevent crime rather than simply to respond to it.
ICE's success in targeting fugitive aliens and reversing the upward trend is the result of strengthened investigations, improved case management and more efficient management of data on fugitives through upgraded information technology. Moreover, these operations are sending a clear message to fugitive aliens that their days in the United States are numbered, and thereby serve as a strong deterrent against future growth in the fugitive population.
The men and women of ICE work hard to execute the agency's law enforcement mission, and their work is having a real effect in improving public safety.
ICE Acting Assistant Secretary
Thank you for your comments to my first post. I appreciate the encouraging words of welcome.
As expected, my first full week has been busy.
I’ve continued to meet with directors of all seven of the Department’s operating components, visit their headquarters locations, and receive briefings on their activities.
I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far – the caliber of the people who work at this Department, their professionalism, and their commitment to our mission.
As Secretary, I want to ensure that our Department continues to uphold the highest ethical standards. For this reason, I’ve ordered that every incoming DHS employee receive ethics training.
This week, I also sent recommendations to President Obama regarding the winter storms that impacted most of our nation’s Midwest and Northeast. He acted on those recommendations, issuing emergency declarations for Arkansas and Kentucky. This will ensure that federal aid flows to these areas. FEMA has been deeply engaged in this process. It began mobilizing assets and resources well ahead of the storm to ensure timely aid and assistance.
Of course, I’ve been intently focused on preparations for Super Bowl 43, and not just because my home team is in the game.
I spoke directly with our head of security in Tampa and received briefings on the Department’s activities related to the Super Bowl, which are extensive.
Finally, I’ve continued to issue action directives to assess the Department's critical functions and set priorities. We rolled out the final action directive today on immigration – to assess our progress to secure the border, remove criminal aliens from the United States, and improve our legal immigration procedures.
I’m eager to get the results of these assessments in the coming days and weeks, and I look forward to sharing these results with you.
January 29, 2009 – Secretary Napolitano meets with senior leadership from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Pictured are Secretary Napolitano; Acting Assistant Secretary John Torres; Marcy Forman, Director Office of Investigations; and Susan Lane, Director Office of Intelligence. (ICE Photo/Caffrey)
January 27, 2009 - Secretary Napolitano greets employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she received briefings from the three USCIS directorates. (USCIS Photo/Buckson)
January 26, 2009 - Secretary Napolitano visits the Transportation Security Administration headquarters and conducted a town hall with TSA employees. (TSA Photo/Dittberner)
January 22, 2009 - Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano meets with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen at Coast Guard Headquarters, for briefings from the service's senior leadership. (USCG Photo/Bender)
First, I’d like to recognize Secretary Chertoff and his team for the work they have done to ensure a smooth transition. I am honored to join Homeland Security and continue the important work begun by my predecessors to protect our borders, safeguard our infrastructure, and improve our nation’s abilities to prevent, respond to, and recover from natural and manmade hazards.
One of my first priorities as Secretary will be to meet with as many of the Department’s leaders and employees as possible. This past week, I met with leadership from each DHS component and will be visiting each of our headquarters in the coming days. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit with many of the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard and received an in-depth briefing from Admiral Allen about major issues facing this agency. I look forward to similar visits to other components this week including TSA, ICE and USCIS.
I also initiated a process to assess and solicit employee input about the Department’s performance across what I see as its five core mission areas: protection, preparedness, response, recovery, and immigration. These “Action Directives” will measure the Department’s effectiveness at meeting its critical functions, from protecting our transportation systems and critical infrastructure to distributing homeland security grants, assessing risk, and sharing intelligence with our state, local, and tribal partners.
Our goal is to identify those areas that require immediate attention, develop strategies to address short-term needs and long-term goals, and provide clear, consistent direction on how we can more fully unify the Department. DHS has come a long way in its short history. Through these Action Directives, we can continue to focus on growth, integration and greater efficiencies.
There is no more important function of government than the protection of its people. Over the past few days, I’ve seen the dedication of the men and women in this Department in action. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to meet this challenge head-on, with the sense of urgency and purpose our citizens expect and our nation’s security requires. It is time to get to work.
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