In January 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The Executive Order outlines a whole-of-government mandate to advance equity for the American public through a comprehensive approach to all government practices, including: management; policymaking (including through regulation and guidance); procurement, contracting, and budgeting; delivery of benefits and services; and data collection, reporting, and use, to tangibly improve the lives of every person across the nation, in particular, those who have been underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.
With the issuance of Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government in February 2023, DHS has reaffirmed its commitment to center equity in policy and decision-making. Executive Order 14091 makes clear that advancing equity is not a one-time project, but an ongoing imperative and a multigenerational commitment. As such, it requires federal agencies to issue an equity action plan annually. Building on the successes in DHS’s inaugural plan and seeking additional opportunities to advance equity in a broader array of programs, the DHS Equity Task Force is presently leading efforts to develop the 2024 DHS Equity Action Plan.
DHS, along with other departments and agencies across the Federal Government, answered the call to review its programs and policies and assess whether members of underserved communities face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to those policies and programs.
In 2021, DHS created its first-ever Equity Task Force, bringing together senior leaders from DHS Components and Headquarter Offices across the Department to take a hard look at our programs and policies to assess whether underserved communities are facing barriers to accessing DHS’s programs and services.
DHS Equity Action Plan
Over the last several months, the Equity Task Force has worked together to develop a comprehensive DHS Equity Action Plan to identify seven key programs with the greatest potential for advancing equity in DHS operations and activities. The programs were selected based on input from the DHS Equity Task Force in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, as well as public feedback and input from stakeholder organizations representing underserved communities.
The key program areas include:
1. Applying for naturalization
DHS will conduct a comprehensive review of policies, regulations, forms, and operations to identify barriers that may impede access to naturalization among underserved communities and make recommendations on how to appropriately and lawfully remove these barriers.
2. Accessing humanitarian protection during immigration processing
DHS will improve access to humanitarian protection during immigration processing by addressing language and disability access gaps and enhancing access to relevant information and resources.
3. Bidding on DHS contracts
DHS will expand engagement with small businesses owned by or supporting members of underserved communities to ensure more equitable access to DHS contracting opportunities.
4. Countering all forms of terrorism and targeted violence
Diverse communities are disproportionality impacted by domestic violent extremism and targeted violence. DHS will further expand its efforts to provide underserved communities with the tools and resources they need to prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence and increase local capabilities to combat all forms of terrorism and targeted violence.
5. Filing complaints and seeking redress in DHS programs and activities
DHS will enhance its communication with the public regarding the right to file complaints and seek redress without retaliation regarding DHS programs and how those processes work.
6. Airport screening
DHS will enhance and standardize employee training and improve screening-technology capabilities to advance equity for members of underserved communities.
7. Accessing Trusted Traveler Programs
DHS will expand gender-identification options for certain trusted traveler programs, including TSA PreCheck®, and enhance access to these programs for individuals with limited English proficiency.
In the coming weeks and months, the DHS Equity Task Force will continue to engage with stakeholders regarding the DHS Equity Action Plan and other equity-related activities and initiatives.
DHS Equity Accomplishments
DHS is pleased to share the following highlights of activities and priorities aimed toward to improving equity across the Department:
- Reversing the Public Charge: In March 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped applying the Public Charge Final Rule to all pending applications and petitions and removed content related to the vacated 2019 Public Charge Final Rule from the affected USCIS forms and posted updated versions of the affected forms. The 2019 rule had a chilling effect on immigrants of color and individuals with disabilities with respect to their willingness to seek any form of assistance from the federal government. On August 23, 2021, DHS published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to seek public feedback on the public charge ground of inadmissibility to inform the development of a future regulatory proposal. Taking that feedback into account, on February 24, 2022, DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) with a 60-day public comment period.
- Issuing Civil Immigration Enforcement Guidelines: On September 30, 2021, Secretary Mayorkas issued Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Law to better focus DHS’s resources on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to our national security, public safety, and border security, and to advance the interests of justice by ensuring a case-by-case assessment of the individual, which takes into account the totality of the facts and circumstances. The Guidelines emphasize that an individual’s “race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, national origin, or political associations shall never be factors” in enforcement action decisions.
- Protecting Communities against Targeted Violence: In March 2021, DHS constituted the DHS Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Task Force, led by the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), in response to concerns raised during a CRCL Incident Community Coordination Team call and an AANHPI community roundtable with Secretary Mayorkas after the Atlanta spa shootings. Now known as the DVE Equity Task Force, it is composed of senior-level officials from across DHS. The task force developed a package of 16 deliverables that addressed the concerns of the AANHPI community related to DVE, immigration, grant opportunities, and outreach. On September 17, 2021, CRCL and the DHS Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans hosted a follow-up AANHPI community roundtable with Secretary Mayorkas and 28 AANHPI community organizations where the Secretary reported out on the deliverables of the taskforce and responded to community concerns. The task force will continue to address the concerns of communities facing the largest threats from DVE.
- Establishing the Law Enforcement Coordination Council: On September 29, 2021, Secretary Mayorkas announced the establishment of the DHS Law Enforcement Coordination Council (LECC) – the Department’s first unified law enforcement coordination body – to promote best practices in its law enforcement activities. DHS is the largest law enforcement agency in the Federal Government and the LECC will build on the Department’s long-standing commitment to ensure more fair, equitable, and impartial policing, as well as officer and community safety. Central to the LECC’s efforts are equity considerations, including adhering to rigorous protection of civil rights and civil liberties. The LECC will also employ a data-driven focus on preventing implicit bias, assessing use of force, and advancing policies that support mental health and increased community trust.
- Engaging with Diverse Communities: CRCL regularly engages with diverse communities across the country whose civil rights and civil liberties may be affected by DHS activities. Since the issuance of EO 13985 in January 2021, CRCL, along with other DHS Components, have led dozens of meetings with diverse racial, ethnic, and religious communities. For example, in June 2021, CRCL led a national roundtable on racial equity, community policing, and supporting underserved communities, and in July 2021, CRCL and held a national listening session on racial profiling with community stakeholders.