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Oral testimony of DHS Secretary Kelly for a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled “Department of Homeland Security Reauthorization and the President's FY 2018 Budget Request”

Release Date: 
June 7, 2017

- As Prepared -

Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Thompson, and distinguished Members of the Committee:

Every day, the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security protect Americans from the threats we face. And so, it is a great pleasure to appear before you today to talk about the tremendous professionals of the Department and the critical missions they carry out in service of America every day and every night, 365 days a year.

Every citizen of the nation understands that the federal government’s fundamental responsibility begins and ends with the protection of the homeland and the security of our people. No other mission is as important. No other consideration more pressing. None.

The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request for the Department of Homeland Security will make it possible for us to continue—and expand on—our current ability to protect our nation and its people.

However, the threats posed by nation states, non-nation state actors, and transnational criminal organizations require us to think very differently about our role. We can no longer think in terms of “defense” somewhere out there; rather, we must think in terms of the “security” of the homeland across the numerous domains of potential attack. The Department of Homeland Security is making a difference in fighting the home game, while the Department of Defense fights the away game. Working together, along with all other agencies of the federal government, America is made safer.

And because of the dedication and effective interagency integration with the DNI, CIA, NCTC, FBI, NSA, DEA, ATF and over a million state, local, and tribal law enforcement professionals—America today is more secure, better prepared, and more resilient in a way that most could not have fathomed the day before 9/11. But the plots to attack the nation are numerous, and the perpetrators are relentless. And the threats have never been greater.

As a result, we need a fully-funded, annual budget that matches our mission – no more continuing resolutions - and I think this budget does that.

When you’re talking about the President’s FY2018 request for $44.1 billion in funding for DHS, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s behind each dollar. But when you get right down to it, behind each and every dollar are hardworking men and women who have dedicated their careers—and in many cases risked their lives—to protect the American people.

Every dollar invested in the men and women of DHS is an investment in prosperity, freedom, and the rule of law.

Above all, it is an investment in the security of the American people—and as far as I am concerned, recent events show that you cannot invest too much in security.

The terrorist attacks on innocent civilians—in Kabul, Cairo, South Asia, Manchester, London, and yesterday in Tehran—are horrific reminders of the dangers we face globally. They show how sophisticated and capable the threat is, and how they think globally in organizing and executing their attacks. The widely reported recent cyber-attacks on our infrastructure and businesses, and potential plots against global aviation are further examples of the range of threats we now face.

These varied threats also illustrate the need to do everything we can to keep our people safe. That means significantly improving the effectiveness of verifying identities—making sure people are who they say they are—while at the same time working with our international partners to raise their awareness and raise their defenses—and force them to do so if need be.

Domestically, one of the most important enhancements is REAL ID, a requirement passed by Congress 12 years ago – and which most of our states and territories have taken seriously, and already adopted. Many others are still working hard to comply.

In those 12 years since the law was passed, some in elected or appointed state and federal positions have chosen to drag their feet or even ignore this federal law. I will not. REAL ID will make America safer. It already has. REAL ID will soon be enforced at our airports, land ports of entry, and all federal facilities. It is a critically important 9/11 Commission recommendation that others have been willing to ignore, but I will not. I will ensure it is implemented on schedule—with no extension—for states that are not taking it seriously.

For those states and territories that cannot or will not make the January 2018 deadline, as I have been telling governors and members of Congress for months now, they should be honest and encourage their citizens to acquire other forms of REAL ID complaint identification like a passport, which is available for a nominal fee from the State Department.

Additionally, we need to prevent bad actors—regardless of religion, race or nationality—from entering our country.

In recent years, we have witnessed an unprecedented spike in terrorist travel. There are more terrorist hotspots and foot soldiers than almost any time in modern history. In Syria and Iraq, for instance, we have seen thousands of jihadist fighters converge to fight in the caliphate from more than 120 different countries.

As our military and coalition partners take the fight to the enemy in Iraq and Syria, many jihadi fighters are returning home to recruit, plot, and conduct terrorist attacks. Already they have put many of our closest allies in the crosshairs. And they are targeting our homeland and our interests overseas—through a combination of inspired, enabled, and directed attacks.

With this in mind, the President has issued clear directions in the form of an Executive Order to the entire executive branch to improve our vetting and screening standards, and to put a pause on the entry of aliens from six countries so we can enhance security.

These are countries mired in civil war, whose governments sponsor terrorist, or which have been overrun by extremists. They are the same terror hotspots Congress and the previous administration designated in 2015 and 2016 for additional travel scrutiny.

At the time, the Obama Administration and Congress believed we needed to focus additional attention on these nations—and potentially others—so that certain foreign nationals who visited them would receive an extra layer of screening. It has nothing to do with religion, or skin color, or the way they live their lives—it is all about security for the American people…nothing else.

While some are endlessly focused on which label to apply to a single portion of the President’s Executive Order, the quarter of a million professional men and women I have the honor of leading, instead are focused on the serious work of how best to secure this nation. And we know that fully implementing the EO would clearly and substantively increase our ability to secure the nation from those who seek to do us harm.

Since the President’s Executive Order was announced, we have seen a number of terror attacks in the West tied back to those countries of concern in some way, as well as clear signs that terrorist groups like ISIS continue to use refugee flows as a Trojan Horse to deploy operatives to conduct attacks. Yet the injunctions tie our hands when it comes to guarding against threats from those locations or from deliberate attempts to infiltrate refugee flows.

It is hard for me to imagine that in light of the current high danger levels that are indeed increasing, that any government entity would prohibit DHS from reviewing the screening of individuals from certain terror hotspots and from putting in place better vetting in high-risk locations.

I can tell you right now—because of court injunctions, for instance—I am not fully confident in our ability to prevent those who seek to do us harm from taking advantage of our generous immigration and visa system.

Critics seem to only think about the temporary suspension of entry from these most problematic of countries, but let me provide a few examples of the kinds of things we cannot do because of these injunctions:

  • We are prohibited from conducting a worldwide review to identify additional information we need from each country to better determine whether an immigration applicant from that country is a security or public-safety threat.
  • We are prohibited from going to any countries identified as lacking in this review and asking them to provide the necessary information to enhance our vetting and screening of their citizens.
  • We are prohibited from reviewing the Refugee Admissions Program to determine what additional procedures we should use to ensure that refugee applicants do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.

Bottom line— I have been enjoined from doing things that I know would make Americans safer, and I anxiously await the courts to once again allow the executive branch to do its constitutional duty and protect Americans from all threats foreign and domestic.

The men and women of DHS will do everything we can—and always…always—within the law to keep the American people safe. But the delay has prevented us from doing what I – and those most familiar with the reality of the threats we face—believe we need to do to protect our homeland.

I know the members of this committee understand this mission – and I’d like to particularly thank all members of the Committee for your continued work in drafting reauthorizing legislation for the Department.

The Department has not been authorized during its existence, and I look forward to supporting the passage of legislation that provides us with the necessary authorities to successfully fulfill our primary task of keeping the American people safe in a more streamlined and unified manner.

I appreciate the opportunity appear before you today, and I thank you for your continued support of the men and women of the Department, and the mission we take so seriously.

Thank you. I remain committed to working with Congress, and protecting the American people.

I am glad to answer any questions you may have.

Last Published Date: August 14, 2018
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