On January 20, 2022, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. His remarks are below:
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here with the Conference of Mayors.
You know, several weeks ago, following a devastating tornado, I visited the city of Mayfield, Kentucky: a very proud city that was once also a city of schools, churches, stores, places where community members could assemble. And when I visited it several weeks ago following the tornado, the community members were there, but really nothing else was. The schools, the churches, the places of assembly, the stores were gone. Just literally blown away and blown down.
And the question arose: What was it that kept the people together? What was it that allowed them to remember the pride they felt in the city that, but a day ago, was standing and vibrant? And to draw upon that pride. And it really wasn't a “what.” It was a “who.” It was the mayor of Mayfield, Kathy O’Nan, and her ability to comfort her constituents, her community members, her ability to reassure them, and her ability to work to ensure that the things they needed—the supplies and the services they needed—were delivered to them.
The mayor — all of you, mayors — are some of the most powerful people in this entire country. You have under your charge the well-being of our communities. And your power is increased when you partner with others. And we in the Department of Homeland Security want to be a very valuable partner of yours. Many mayors around the country and many people whom you represent and lead don't really know what the Department of Homeland Security is. Most likely uppermost in their minds right now is immigration, but they may not realize that the United States Coast Guard, the United States Secret Service, FEMA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, TSA and other agencies and offices within our purview are actually part of the Department of Homeland Security. I certainly don't have enough time to speak about the breadth of the work that we perform and all for which we are responsible. But I do want to focus a few remarks on four areas where we are deeply involved and want to be deeply involved with you. We want to be your partner.
And when I first started in this job, I communicated that we are a department of partnership. I want to thank Mayor Suarez for his kind introduction. He is the mayor of a city that was my first home when my family arrived here in the United States from Cuba.
On this day, this first year anniversary of the Biden-Harris administration, the four areas that I want to focus on — that we have been working so hard to partner with leaders across the country — are cybersecurity, domestic violent extremism, immigration, and natural disasters.
And let me start with cybersecurity. There may be some of you who feel that your city is immune from a cybersecurity attack, that you're really off the radar screen and perhaps too small to be victimized. There may be others of you who lead very large cities with very sophisticated cybersecurity architectures that might find a great deal of comfort in the architectures that you have built and consider yourselves immune from attack because of them. And I would respectfully submit that you would both be wrong.
You know, over the past several months, we've seen a hospital in a small town in the United States be the victim of a ransomware attack and its patients in the intensive care unit having to be moved on an emergency basis to another hospital in a neighboring city because its systems and processes were shut down. We certainly have seen the large city victimized by very sophisticated actors, and sometimes it doesn't take a great deal of sophistication to successfully launch a cybersecurity attack. It could be one of your city employees actually just clicking on a link that they think they recognize but is not exactly what it should be and, all of a sudden, the bad actor is inside.
What can we do about it? I would say regardless of the size and sophistication of your infrastructure, you really need to identify a person who could take charge of the cybersecurity portfolio because it is something that we all need to be vigilant about. And then there's the blocking and the tackling that actually can make a real difference. It is in fact instructing your personnel, and not only your personnel but your community members, to change their passwords from time to time, to make their password strong, to back-up their systems, some of these very easy things. Because, in the cybersecurity world, in a world where we are all connected, it only takes one computer and we say that we're only as strong as our weakest link.
And then what can we as a Department of Homeland Security do for you? This is the first year that we will have $1 billion dollars in grant funds to distribute around the country to different cities — small, medium and large — over a four-year period and, this year, it is our plan to distribute $200 million of those funds to cities. And so we have a great deal of funding to equip and empower you to deal with this threat environment that is only growing.
And I would ask you to really look on our website at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – or CISA as it is known, because everything in the federal government has an acronym – and we will make those grant funds available to you and we can also dispatch our expert personnel to you, wherever you are in the United States, to really help you build the architecture that addresses whatever funding limitations you have and whatever potential we can help you realize. The threat landscape is only becoming that much more challenging.
Let me then turn to what I have described as the greatest terrorism related threat that we face on our homeland today. And that is the threat of domestic violent extremism. And just to make sure that I define it accurately for you: we are not speaking of individuals who espouse ideologies of hate, or who propel false narratives forward. We in this country, of course, one of our fundamental principles is a principle of freedom of speech guaranteed by our United States Constitution. But where we become involved and where the threat materializes is when those ideologies of hate, those false narratives, are linked to acts of terrorism.
Everyone here is assuredly aware of the slogan If You See Something, Say Something. And that I think, when that is articulated, we think of the airport, we think of the transit station, we think of the backpack that is left by a bus stop, perhaps by someone who wishes to do us harm. And we're very concerned about the contents of the backpack.
But the world of domestic violent extremism is different. We're not talking about the backpack as much. We're talking about the individual. And the issue is not the identification of the backpack but the ability to identify when an individual, who might overtly be articulating ideologies of concern or false narratives, when we begin to see them display a tendency to be driving towards violence. When we see them descending in perhaps mental health, in an adverse mental health condition. When they begin to exhibit anti-social behavior.
You know, there was a, there was a case but a couple months ago, when tragically an individual who heroically served in our armed forces, who was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was beginning to exhibit signs of antisocial behavior and descending into more severe and severe, more severe drug abuse. And people around him and close to him who loved him noticed it. But they didn't know necessarily what to do about it.
And this veteran whom, to whom we owe so much, went into a home, allegedly, and shot and killed four individuals. But what can we do? What can we place in the hands of his loved ones, his friends, his pastor, his neighbor, to be able to detect when, in fact, he began to exhibit signs of trouble? Who would they be able to call and what would we be able to do?
And here too, we in the Department of Homeland Security can help you. We can dispatch our experts to teach you about the indicia of violent extremism and one, when one is beginning to descend into those paths. We have grant funds, -- last year a minimum of $77 million but we have more this year -- to equip and empower you to build programs and to be able to deliver the social services capabilities that you might have. Our goal is to prevent the threat from materializing, not responding with the tools of accountability in the enforcement arena that we can bring to bear. Of course, we will do so if we're unable to prevent that threat from materializing, but it is our goal to be preventive before we have to be responsive. We have so much that we can offer you in that area as well.
In the world of immigration, I couldn't help but notice that Mayor Suarez mentioned the situation at the Southern border as one of our initial responsibilities here in the Department of Homeland Security and, of course, that is of primary focus, but I want to speak about something more. Something different. On September 30 of this past year, September 30, 2021, I issued new immigration enforcement guidelines. And in those guidelines, I articulated what I felt was a very important principle: that we will not dedicate our limited enforcement resources to apprehend individuals who have been here in this country for many years, who have been contributing members of our communities.
Unlawful presence in the United States will alone not be a basis for an immigration enforcement action but rather, we will allocate our efforts, we will allocate our resources on those individuals who present a current public safety threat, a threat to national security, or a threat to our border security, and that is a very important principle.
And it is not just a matter of the appropriate allocation of limited resources but it is a matter of justice and fairness and equity as well. And so, I have an ask of you. Some of your cities, by reason of past history, have declined to cooperate with immigration authorities in the removal, the apprehension and removal of individuals, even if those individuals pose a public safety threat. And I do not mean to suggest that distrust, if that is one of the concerns underlying policies such as that, I don't mean to do assert that that distrust is not earned. But what I want to communicate to you is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, the agency of today and what it is focused upon, and what it is doing, is not the agency of the past. We are not engaged in indiscriminate enforcement, but we are focused on making our communities safe and allowing those who have been contributors to it and productive members of it, to allow them to continue in their contributions and their productivity.
And so, I will be coming to you and asking you to reconsider your position of non-cooperation and see how we can work together. And I may not succeed initially in a wholesale reversal of your position, but I am willing to work in increments with you because the public’s safety, the public's well-being, for which we are all charged, is I think at issue.
Lastly, let me speak of natural disasters, and the reality that climate change has changed the landscape so significantly. You know, when I was a Deputy Secretary in the Obama-Biden Administration, we spoke of seasons. It was hurricane season. It was fire season. We don't speak about seasons anymore across the country as we look at natural disasters, whether they be tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, devastating fire in the beautiful state of Colorado but a short while ago.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which is part of our Department of Homeland Security, again, can do so much. You know, when I visited Mayfield and other parts of Kentucky -- I visited twice, the second time with our President -- we saw parts of buildings that were actually built to relatively modern codes that were intended to be safe zones within a building should a natural disaster strike, and they were destroyed by a remarkably powerful tornado. And so one of the things that, of course, we are doing in partnership with state, local, tribal, territorial communities is looking at building codes and whether, in fact, they are evolving to meet the threats of today rather than the threats of yesterday.
And so let us join you in that analysis. Let us help you map out evacuation routes in case a natural disaster hits. We want to help plan: to prevent devastation to your populations from occurring, to be ready for the disasters should they strike, to be able to respond effectively, and to be resilient against them. We want to build with you, together with you in partnership, stronger and more prosperous communities. We want to prevent the threats from materializing. If they materialize, we want to be able to respond effectively. And when we respond effectively, we want to prove our resilience. That is what we want to do.
And we also want, with you, to champion our identity as a country. We want to champion our identity as a nation of immigrants: realize and harness and advance their contributions. That is who I think we are. And I, as an immigrant to this country, say that with tremendous pride and gratitude, not only to my parents, of course, but to the country that gave us this home and me the opportunity to join government service.
And let me end on Operation Allies Welcome. In late August, in late August of 2021 we began the parole of Afghan nationals, many of whom stood side by side with us in the theater of war across the world. Today, we have resettled over 70,000 of them. And when I say we, I use that advisedly in the most inclusive sense. It's very difficult now, as we look at the national landscape, to really take stock of the incredible divisiveness that we are suffering in our society. And it is breathtaking in a world of increasing divide to see a force of unity and Operation Allies Welcome presented that because it crossed party lines. It bridged the divide. Cities and leaders of different policy backgrounds and different political beliefs came together and demonstrated what America always has been and what it always hopefully will be and certainly what it can be: the greatest place of refuge in the world, a haven for those in need of relief, and especially for those who have given so much to us.
And so, for that and for so much more, I thank you and I very much look forward to partnering with you. Thank you so much.