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Statement By Secretary Jeh C. Johnson On Steps To Further Secure The Homeland

Release Date: 
November 30, 2015

For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
Contact: 202-282-8010

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, federal, state and local law enforcement and homeland security officials in this country have been in a heightened state of readiness. This past Thanksgiving week, many Americans witnessed this first-hand at airports, train stations, parades, public places and events.  

Since the attacks in Paris, there has been anxiety across our own country. I understand that anxiety. But, in this environment we must guard against actions that are ill-considered, misdirected and counterproductive. We must focus our efforts on measures that will actually strengthen our screening of those who travel to the United States, and better secure the homeland.  

On November 19, the House passed legislation concerning the vetting process for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. This bill was passed in haste after about two days’ consideration. It adds layers of additional bureaucracy to an already thorough and multi-layered vetting process that takes an average 18-24 months per refugee. If this bill becomes law, we will effectively shut the door of this country on many desperate women, children and families fleeing the very same terrorism and violence that we abhor. This is a bad bill, and the President has vowed to veto it.

There are other, more effective ways the Administration and Congress can help secure the homeland.  

First, there are many in Congress interested in legislation to strengthen the security of our Visa Waiver Program. This is a good idea, and we are prepared to work with Congress toward that goal. At present there are 38 countries from which their citizens and nationals may travel to the United States without a visa. The Visa Waiver Program is a valuable tool to promote lawful trade and travel with our best foreign allies. But, as many have noted, ISIL's force consists of foreign terrorist fighters, including thousands from countries in the Visa Waiver Program. It is for this reason principally that I directed a series of security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program which began in November 2014. In August 2015, I announced a series of further security enhancements to the program. These included requirements for E-Passports, the use of Interpol's screening capabilities, and more robust implementation of the information sharing agreements required under the Visa Waiver Program. We support legislation to give these enhancements the force of law.

Second, there are ways in which Congress can support our strategy to expand "preclearance" capability at overseas airports. This means deploying our U.S. Customs officials to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States, to screen passengers bound for the U.S. before they arrive on U.S. soil. So far, we’ve established this preclearance capability at 15 airports worldwide, and it has proven very effective in denying boarding to suspicious individuals. We need to build more of these.

Third, Congress can fully fund the President’s budget proposal for aviation security.

Meanwhile, those of us in homeland security are taking a number of actions within our existing authorities to address the current threat environment, and we are always evaluating whether more is necessary.

Even now, the Administration is accelerating our diplomatic engagements with countries in the Visa Waiver Program, to (i) emphasize the need to raise security cooperation in light of the threat posed by ISIL, and (ii) offer the full range of U.S. Government capabilities to interested Visa Waiver Program countries hoping to improve their own security capabilities. Following the continuous review DHS conducts of the Visa Waiver Program, I will be reporting back to the President on any priority concerns, along with specific steps to improve cooperation, and also, where applicable, penalties. DHS will further examine and pilot innovative approaches to biometrics to further enhance the Visa Waiver Program. I have also directed that, as part of the evaluation of individual travelers from Visa Waiver countries, we determine more directly whether the traveler has been to a terrorist safe haven.  

Since he was appointed in July, our new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger has taken a number of steps to strengthen aviation security and the screening of passengers at airports. Earlier this month, in response to the crash of Metrojet 9268, I directed a number of other security enhancements at domestic and certain foreign airports with flights directly to the U.S.  

We’re focused on airport security. Since April we’ve enhanced the continuous, random screening of airport/airline personnel in secure areas, and encouraged U.S. airports to reduce employee access points. The TSA Administrator and I have recently concluded that we need to double-down on these airport security efforts and will be consulting with airports and airlines to do so.    

These are just some of the things we are doing to secure the homeland and protect the American people.

There is a role for the public, too. We urge all Americans to exercise their freedom to travel, attend public events, celebrate the holidays, but be vigilant and aware, and report suspicious things and activity. “If You See Something, Say SomethingTM” is more than a slogan.

In a free and open democratic society, we cannot erase all risk. Nor should we succumb to panic, fear and anxiety, and compromise our values.

Terrorism cannot prevail in a society that refuses to be terrorized.

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Last Published Date: November 30, 2015
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