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How My Helplessness Gave Way to My Purpose

myDHS - Wen-Ting Cheng, Chief Counsel, ICE
Podcast Series: 

Wen-Ting Cheng shares her harrowing story of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, while working in the ICE New York Office of the Chief Counsel.  The tragic events of that day are a constant reminder to Wen-Ting on the importance of her work to the DHS mission.


Please welcome to the stage: Chief Counsel Wen Ting Chen, U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Secretary Nielsen, Deputy Secretary Duke, honored guests. September 11, 2001 started as an ordinary day for me as a trial attorney with legacy INS in New York. Like so many other mornings, I was reviewing a Chinese asylum case with colleagues and then everything changed. I heard an explosion on the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It had been struck by an airplane and then 15 minutes another plane crashed into the South Tower. I ran – I ran that day harder than I've ever run in my life out of our building up through the streets of Manhattan. I remember watching in horror as the North Tower fell into a cloud of dust and rubble that had consumed the South Tower not 30 minutes before. The unthinkable had become real and would we ever be safe again? In the following days, the grief was made also much worse by the feeling of helplessness. Our offices were closed so I couldn't go to work. I couldn't even give blood. The hospitals were at full supply and although they had many donors like me, unfortunately, they had too few to save. On day three, I received a call from legacy INS headquarters asking if I would come down to Washington on detail for an indeterminate period of time to support the Penn bomb investigation. I said yes and that's when my healing began. Soon my helplessness gave way to purpose and that purpose grew into pride. That's the pride in knowing our mission and sticking with it and the pride of knowing our mission is important. Not just important but critical to the security of the United States. On March 1st 2003, I was again on detail to headquarters. Seems I’m always on detail to headquarters [Laughter] But I've been fortunate, because during that opportunity, I got to be here when the Department of Homeland Security was established. Working as the special assistant to ICE’s first Assistant Secretary Michael J Garcia, I was privileged to have a front row to the birth of this department and of ICE. It was so exciting to see us marry our customs, authorities and our immigration authorities and to bring these tools to bear in protecting our homeland. So for 15 years now, it has been my honor to serve with the men and women of ICE; to stand with enforcement and removal operations in protecting public safety through the faithful enforcement of our immigration laws; to stand with Homeland Security Investigations; to combat criminal organizations who seek to exploit our immigration, travel, trade, and financial systems; to live true to the model - motto - of the office of the principal legal adviser “securitas per sigue” - security through the law. Thank you.
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