On May 4, 2021, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas spoke at the 51st Washington Conference of the Americas.
See below for the Secretary’s prepared remarks:
The free and democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere are bound by shared interests: national security, trade, economic and social development, and migration.
Collectively, our nations are endowed with enviable natural resources, skilled workers and advanced manufacturing, robust trade pipelines, and a shared commitment to democracy and rule of law.
The challenges we face – together – are also complex. Climate change, migration, terrorism, and cybersecurity are all issues that do not respect borders.
The COVID-19 pandemic is another stark example of our interconnectedness. COVID-19 has touched every country of the world and laid bare the need to further strengthen our partnerships to meet shared challenges. The pandemic has also given us an opportunity to reimagine our cooperation and leverage what we have learned in order to respond to the many other complex threats we face.
Today, we have an opportunity to build back better with our partners across the full range of our Homeland Security missions.
Our vision for how DHS can support a more secure and prosperous United States and Western Hemisphere is built on a few basic principles, many of which have been advocated by other thoughtful policy leaders as well.
Security in, and the facilitation of, travel and trade are mutually reinforcing activities – the more we know about a person or cargo the faster it can move. We must re-center our international relationships to focus on the economic imperative, which requires that we have secure global trade and transit pipelines; this will create more harmonious trade practices and give all of our economies a needed boost.
In this same vein, we must begin to view our smart border management as a critical piece of our economic security and also as a tool for connection and economic development.
Rather than viewing borders solely as the lines that mark national boundaries and that divide us from one another, we should see borders as a point of connection, as the place where the flows of people, goods, and ideas from different countries interact and intersect. This view recognizes the good that we can offer each other, and the connection between international exchange and economic vitality.
Borders viewed this way cannot be secured by a single nation. Rather, our national and economic security are best achieved through international partnerships.
Within the U.S. Government, the Department of Homeland Security is a convener among our nations across the Western Hemisphere on a wide range of security and trade issues. These partnerships advance a view of collective security. We need one another. Our security and economic success are both inextricably linked to that of our friend and partner countries in the Americas.
These partnerships – and the collective security they help to ensure – are key to fulfilling our mission to protect the U.S. homeland. And when we perform our work well, our people are free to pursue opportunities and raise their families in safe, stable, and secure nations. They are free to dream about their future and their children’s future.
The Governments of Mexico and Canada are two of our most important partners in these efforts, and we collaborate with them on nearly every aspect of our mission, including travel facilitation, information sharing, supply chain resiliency, and a range of security, migration, and trade initiatives.
We are proud of the renewed coordination under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will support robust economic growth in North America and facilitate strengthened partnerships on other key issues, including cybersecurity and intelligence.
We are also engaged in other key Departmental partnerships across the Americas:
- We engage in cyber and air travel security initiatives with Chile;
- We support Colombia’s protection program for Venezuelan nationals;
- We have joint maritime patrols with Caribbean and South American partners to combat drug trafficking;
- We prevent the transit of known or suspected terrorists through airports and land borders;
- We combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and,
- We counter the malign influence of foreign actors in the region.
Because these initiatives are the foundation of a more secure Western Hemisphere, they also support the foundation of a more secure America.
These efforts also mitigate the circumstances that drive individuals to make the choice to migrate irregularly.
Our vision for migration management and our immigration system is rooted in the belief that people should be treated with dignity and respect. This is not inconsistent with enforcing the law and securing our border. This is, however, a stark departure from the policies of the previous administration in the United States. We continue to work day and night to rebuild the systems that were dismantled by the prior administration.
I was very proud to announce just yesterday that we have begun to reunite children and parents that were torn apart from one another when they attempted to cross the Southwest Border during the prior administration. Today, we will reunite the first four of those families in the United States, and we continue the work to reunite hundreds more in the near future. Today’s family reunifications are just the beginning.
We have also drastically reduced the number of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol facilities over the past month, cutting that number by 88 percent. The Border Patrol have performed heroically under challenging circumstances, but they know better than anyone that a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child. I am proud of the Department and the interagency team that has mobilized on both family reunification and border management. We know there is more work to be done. It is hard work, of course, but we do the hard work.
The Biden Administration has been working to both address the root causes leading to irregular migration and strengthen the collaborative migration management strategy to ensure safe, orderly, and humane migration in the Americas.
We are incredibly grateful to Vice President Harris for leading the charge to address root causes by strategically investing in Central America to expand economic opportunity, enhance security, and foster good governance.
While the long-term goal of our efforts is a better life for people throughout the hemisphere—so that fewer individuals feel compelled to migrate irregularly in the first place—we recognize that, in the short-term, several initiatives are needed to provide protection to individuals closer to their homes.
We are developing these initiatives in concert with our regional partners, as well as several NGOs and international organizations, to ensure consistency, fairness, and accountability as we approach these problems in a unified way.
Our Department is also increasing its efforts to target and dismantle transnational criminal organizations that profit from human smuggling and trafficking. These organizations put profit over human life and take advantage of vulnerable people, with devastating consequences.
DHS will broaden its engagement, along with our partners in the region, to secure the legitimate financial networks and physical infrastructure that these criminals leverage to launder profits and smuggle and traffic weapons, narcotics, bulk cash, and people.
At the same time, we envision a robust system of lawful trade and travel, and we are taking steps to better facilitate both. We are expanding trusted traveler programs, such as Global Entry, to not only allow individuals visiting the United States easier entry upon arrival, but to build out similar programs in the region to enable U.S. Citizens to more easily enter other countries for business or tourism.
We are focused on developing modern port security and infrastructure, with an emphasis on the security of the Panama Canal. Like all critical infrastructure, the canal requires cyber and infrastructure security to facilitate the flow of global commerce.
The recent blockage of the Suez Canal, through which about 12% of global trade passes, further highlights the need to partner closely with Panama to secure the canal, including against foreign adversaries.
We need to work to protect our supply chain from malign foreign influences. We should expand authorized economic operator programs, which link supply chains from the very beginning of a product’s or commodity’s production life-cycle, all the way to customer delivery, more seamlessly crossing borders and clearing customs.
All of these efforts help to expand legitimate businesses in the region and ensure that supply chains are not threatened by malign foreign influence, as well as criminal networks.
Clearly, we have much work ahead. We are grateful to have a strong group of partners throughout the Americas and the Western Hemisphere.
Looking ahead, we remain committed to expanding our partnerships across the Americas in the service of our collective security and prosperity.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.