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  4. 2021: A Strong Year of Progress at the Department of Homeland Security

2021: A Strong Year of Progress at the Department of Homeland Security

Release Date: February 4, 2022

In the Biden-Harris Administration’s first year, DHS has made tremendous progress in its efforts to protect the American public and administer the laws of our nation. Our efforts to date have strengthened our ability to uphold our laws and our values. We have rescinded policies that do not reflect our values, brought offices back to life, issued new directives, and reconstructed entire operations in order to bolster the security of our nation and the diverse communities we serve. Much work remains, which we approach with energy and optimism. Some highlights of 2021 are below.

We Are DHS

Cybersecurity is a top priority for the Biden Administration and for DHS under Secretary Mayorkas’s leadership. DHS is leading efforts to increase nationwide cybersecurity resilience across the public and private sectors, including by playing a critical role in responding to major cybersecurity incidents.

  • Led several emergency responses to major cybersecurity incidents via the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), our nation’s cybersecurity quarterback, and took action to mitigate cybersecurity risks across every level of government and the private sector. We responded to incidents that include the notable attacks on SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, and IT and security management firm Kaseya.
  • Increased operational partnerships between private sector companies and the federal government to strengthen our nation’s cyber defenses through CISA’s newly established Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC). The JCDC brings these partners together to mitigate cybersecurity risk and ensure a unified response to cybersecurity incidents.
  • Elevated the fight against ransomware as a top government priority, including by creating a DHS task force to drive related action at home and abroad and launching StopRansomware.gov – the first-ever one-stop-shop for federal resources to combat ransomware – alongside the Department of Justice and other federal partners.
  • Took action to protect the cybersecurity of our nation’s critical infrastructure. In the wake of the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, TSA issued two security directives that require owners and operators of critical pipelines to report cybersecurity incidents to CISA within 24 hours, designate a cybersecurity coordinator to be available 24/7, and take specific steps to protect against cyberattacks. TSA took additional similar steps to enhance the cybersecurity of our nation’s critical surface and aviation transportation systems.
  • Boosted investments in our cybersecurity defenses by increasing the minimum amount recipients of the DHS Homeland Security Grant Program are required to spend on cybersecurity from 5 to 7.5 percent, resulting in at least $25 million being spent on cybersecurity resilience across the country.
  • Advanced meaningful progress toward developing a top-tier, diverse cybersecurity workforce, including by launching the largest cybersecurity hiring initiative in DHS history and establishing the DHS Cybersecurity Service to increase access to public service cybersecurity careers, modernize our Department’s ability to recruit mission-critical cybersecurity talent, and better compete with the private sector.

DHS is working to build an immigration system that upholds our nation’s laws and keeps our borders secure and well-managed. In executing our solemn responsibility to administer and enforce our immigration laws with honor and integrity, we can help achieve justice and realize our ideals as a nation.

  • Issued new guidelines regarding immigration enforcement priorities that focus the Department’s limited resources on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to our national security, border security, and public safety. These guidelines mark a new approach to enforcement as they focus resources on those who pose the greatest threat. Further, the guidelines enable the Department’s experienced personnel to use their discretion and focus DHS enforcement resources in a more targeted way, while protecting civil rights and civil liberties.
  • Expedited review of immigration cases by creating a new, more efficient process to conduct timely and fair immigration proceedings, resulting in a reduction of wait times for court decisions from 3-5 years to as little as 6 months.
  • Preserved and strengthened protections for Dreamers through proposed rulemaking to fortify DACA and in recognition of Dreamers’ contributions to our country. DHS has urged Congress to act swiftly to provide Dreamers and others the pathway to lawful immigration status they need and deserve.
  • Stopped defending the 2019 public charge rule, which penalized individuals seeking immigration benefits who accessed health benefits and other government services available to them, and expeditiously commenced a new public charge rulemaking effort.
  • Launched the Family Reunification Task Force (FRTF), composed of several federal agencies, to ensure the safe reunification of families unjustly and cruelly separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the prior Administration. To date, the FRTF has identified 370 families for reunification and reunited 118 families.
  • Designated certain protected areas as generally exempt from immigration enforcement, including courthouses, places of worship, places where children gather, disaster or emergency relief sites, and social services establishments. Under this first-ever joint policy for CBP and ICE, which provides an expanded and non-exhaustive list of protected areas, enforcement actions, to the fullest extent possible, should not be taken in or near a location that would restrain people’s access to essential services or engagement in essential activities.
  • Established a new approach to promote humanizing language. DHS issued guidance on lexicon to ensure the Department is treating everyone with the dignity they deserve – including through the use of our language.
  • Reduced the number of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol facilities from 5,767 at the peak on March 29, 2021 to 85 on January 7, 2022. Further, DHS reduced the average time to transfer a child into HHS care from 136 hours on April 5, 2021 to 15 hours on January 7, 2022, in order to ensure children are sheltered in facilities more suitable for their care.
  • Helped American businesses facing labor shortages expand temporary worker visas. In 2021, DHS announced two increases for the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker program, which will help fuel our nation’s historic economic recovery. DHS announced an additional 22,000 visas in April, and an additional 20,000 visas in December. Thousands of visas were reserved for nationals of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti to expand lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States.
  • Extended temporary protections for citizens of certain countries due to unsafe conditions by issuing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Burma, Haiti, and Venezuela, allowing individuals from those countries already present in the United States to legally remain here on a temporary basis. DHS also extended and redesignated TPS for 18 months for Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. In addition, countries whose TPS designation was terminated by the prior Administration (El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan) received a 15-month extension while litigation remains ongoing.
  • Promoted a fair labor market by supporting more effective enforcement of wage protections, workplace safety, labor rights, and other employment laws. DHS changed worksite enforcement policies so that the Department no longer focuses on vulnerable noncitizen workers, but instead focuses resources on unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit their employees’ immigration status. By adopting policies that focus on the most corrupt employers, we will protect workers as well as legitimate American businesses.
  • Enhanced border security cooperation and coordination with law enforcement through $90 million in Operation Stonegarden funds for state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies to jointly enhance security along U.S. land borders and the maritime domain.


During Summer 2021, the United States and its allies conducted one of the largest airlifts in history, safely evacuating more than 124,000 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs), vulnerable Afghans, and third-country nationals from Afghanistan. At the President’s direction, DHS is proud to lead the Unified Coordination Group, a whole-of-government, whole-of-society effort to resettle vulnerable Afghans – including those who served alongside the United States in Afghanistan and include women leaders, human rights activists, humanitarian workers, journalists, and other at-risk individuals – across the United States. Through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), we have welcomed more than 76,000 Afghan evacuees to the United States.

  • Established a rigorous and multi-layered screening and vetting process to ensure the safety of vulnerable Afghans and our national security, in partnership with the Departments of Defense and State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other Intelligence Community partners. This process includes reviewing fingerprints, photos, and biographic data for every Afghan evacuee before they are permitted to enter the United States.
  • Surged resources to help our Afghan allies rebuild their lives in communities across our country. Thousands of DHS employees joined the effort, both in-person and virtually, to help support our Afghan allies.
  • Eliminated certain immigration application fees for Afghan evacuees to streamline processing. This should help facilitate access to work authorization, Green Cards, and other available services, which will enable Afghan evacuees to begin to rebuild their lives more quickly in communities across the United States.

DHS is leading a robust response to combating a dynamic and evolving threat environment, including by strengthening coordination across every level of government and empowering local communities with the tools and resources they need to help prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence.

  • Redoubled efforts to provide timely and actionable intelligence and information to the broadest audience at the lowest classification level possible. In 2021, Secretary Mayorkas issued four National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletins to keep the American public informed about evolving threats and how to stay safe. Further, DHS is strengthening its information sharing capabilities with partners across every level of government and the private sector, including by disseminating intelligence bulletins that provide greater insight into evolving threats and situational awareness notifications that inform public safety and security planning efforts.
  • Stood up a new, dedicated domestic terrorism unit in DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis to produce sound, timely intelligence needed to combat domestic terrorism.
  • Established the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) to provide communities with the tools and resources they need to prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence as our best first line of defense. In Fiscal Year 2021, CP3 awarded approximately $20 million in grant funding to prevent targeted violence and terrorism.
  • Expanded grant funding to combat domestic violent extremism, which poses one of the most persistent and lethal terrorism-related threats to our country, including by designating combating domestic violent extremism as a “National Priority Area” for two key homeland security grant programs for the first time. As a result, more than $77 million will be spent to combat violence in communities across our country.

Natural and man-made disasters and emergencies can overwhelm even the best prepared communities, causing a high number of fatalities, widespread destruction, and economic and social damage. DHS responds to incidents by engaging directly with community leadership to provide support; coordinating federal response and recovery efforts; and providing critical resources.

  • Led federal response and recovery efforts for 53 major disaster declarations in 2021, including the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ida from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, and another catastrophic fire season in the West. FEMA has provided more than $1.9 billion in financial assistance to survivors affected across seven states in response to Hurricane Ida and over $19.2 million to survivors of the wildfires in California.
  • Improved equity for disaster survivors by increasing the number of acceptable forms of documentation needed to prove ownership or occupancy for homeowners and renters, expanding housing assistance and other needs-assistance funding, and expanding financial assistance for disaster-caused disability. This new policy has resulted in nearly 100,000 disaster survivors receiving FEMA assistance who would have otherwise received ineligibility letters.
  • Stood up a nationwide network of mobile vaccination units, pop-up sites, and community vaccination centers that contributed to more than 6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses being administered. FEMA worked alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal partners to help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments more equitably increase access to COVID-19 vaccines. To date, FEMA has supported the establishment of more than 2,300 community vaccination centers nationwide.
  • Developed and implemented a long-term strategy that will provide the Department the capability to quickly acquire critical personal protective equipment (PPE) to facilitate a speedy and effective response in confronting future pandemics or crisis events.

Combating the climate crisis and mitigating climate change-related risks – which pose a grave threat to the safety, security, and prosperity of our communities in the short- and long-term – is a top priority for DHS. Whether it is extreme heat and fires in the West, extreme storms in the Southeast, or ice melting in the Arctic, DHS agencies are the first responders to the climate crisis.

  • Established the first-ever Climate Change Action Group composed of senior officials from across the Department to focus on promoting resilience and addressing multiple risks, including flooding, extreme heat, drought, and wildfires, as part of DHS’s new approach to addressing climate change with the urgency this challenge demands.
  • Invested $1 billion in community resilience through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which incentivizes communities to increase their climate adaption and provides funding to prepare for extreme weather events and other disasters and reduces the risks associated with them. In 2021, President Biden doubled the prior level of funding provided to the BRIC program.
  • Invested an unprecedented $3.46 billion in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which invests in projects that can prevent or reduce the costs of future disasters, with a focus on promoting equity in underserved communities.

DHS works closely with law enforcement partners at home and abroad to identify, investigate, and interdict the transnational criminal organizations that smuggle dangerous drugs into our country. At the border, this includes deploying personnel and technology to more efficiently identify and seize narcotics, including the synthetic drugs that have caused so much loss and pain in our country.

  • Made it more difficult for smugglers to conceal fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in the mail by enacting regulations that strengthen the collection and sharing of key data by the U.S. Postal Service and CBP for international mail shipments.
  • Increased seizures of illicit drugs and targeted narcotics traffickers to dismantle their networks through increased domestic and international law enforcement cooperation. In Fiscal Year 2021, an ICE-led task force seized approximately five metric tons of cocaine, six aircrafts, and an estimated $900,000 in cash assets belonging to traffickers.
  • Beyond the border, in the maritime approaches to the United States, the Coast Guard conducted 224 at-sea interdictions of vessels suspected of trafficking cocaine, removing more than 164 metric tons of cocaine (109 in the Pacific and 55 in the Caribbean) worth an estimated wholesale value of $6.8 billion, and detaining 516 illicit traffickers for U.S. federal prosecution.

DHS is a leader in preventing human smuggling, forced labor, and human trafficking around the world. DHS stops the importation of goods made by forced labor, brings traffickers to justice, and supports victims of trafficking.

  • ICE increased the number of criminal human trafficking investigations by 17 percent (947 in FY 2020 to 1,111 in FY 2021), increased the number of arrests by 35 percent (from 1,746 in FY 2020 to 2,360 in FY 2021), and increased the number of victims assisted by 74 percent (from 418 in FY 2020 to 728 in FY 2021).
  • Increased efforts to dismantle transnational criminal organizations that exploit vulnerable migrants through a new effort called Operation Sentinel. This Operation targets criminal networks that profit from a broad range of illicit activities, such as human smuggling, by using targeted enforcement actions against them, including by denying access to travel and freezing bank accounts.
  • Detained 1,469 shipments and seized 57 shipments containing nearly $500 million in merchandise linked to forced labor abroad, a nearly 900 percent increase from under $50 million in detained and seized goods in Fiscal Year 2020.
  • Safeguarded victims of human trafficking and brought perpetrators to justice. DHS released the first Continued Presence Resource Guide to assist law enforcement agencies nationwide with their human trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Continued Presence is an immigration designation that allows victims of severe forms of human trafficking who may be potential witnesses to temporarily stay and work in the United States.

DHS utilizes evidence-based scientific and technical perspectives to address a range of current and emerging threats – from aviation security to chemical and biological detection to critical infrastructure, resilience, climate and natural disasters, cybersecurity, and beyond. The Department addresses these challenges through the development of timely and innovative solutions that improve the strength and resilience of our nation.

  • Launched DHS’s Southwest Border Technology Integration Program to digitize the processing of noncitizen cases, improving the processing efficiency of more than 30,000 cases and enhancing the use of data to drive leadership and operational decision-making.
  • Improved transparency through the expanded use of body-worn cameras. In a step toward broader implementation, CBP began outfitting an initial group of agents and officers with body-worn cameras to enhance its policing practices and reinforce trust and transparency. ICE also announced a related pilot program in select cities.
  • Deployed low-cost flood sensors to alert first responders of rising floodwaters and provide local emergency officials the necessary data to react quickly and effectively to save lives.
  • Successfully field-tested wildland fire sensors that will enable early detection of wildfires, reducing the time it takes to respond.

DHS interacts more frequently with the public on a daily basis than any other federal agency. The more than 250,000 dedicated public servants who comprise the DHS workforce help keep our communities safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They protect the traveling public, secure our borders, facilitate lawful trade and travel to promote a strong American economy, help protect the cybersecurity of organizations of all sizes, increase nationwide resilience against natural disasters, and so much more. Their dedication makes our noble mission possible.

  • Vaccinated 77 percent of our frontline workforce for COVID-19 in six months, representing nearly 100,000 healthcare, law enforcement, military, and other essential DHS workers nationwide.
  • Advanced diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) for our workforce through a newly established DHS-wide DEIA Task Force, which is taking actions and developing programs to integrate DEIA best practices across the Department, including within workforce recruitment, training, management, and professional advancement.
  • Launched the Law Enforcement Coordination Council (LECC), the Department’s first unified law enforcement coordination body, to promote best practices in its law enforcement activities. DHS is the largest law enforcement organization in the federal government and the LECC will build on the Department’s long-standing commitment to ensure more fair, equitable, and impartial policing, as well as officer and community safety.
  • Improved the TSA employment experience through new efforts to support the TSA workforce and laying the groundwork to transition to a more competitive and fair pay system for screening personnel.
Last Updated: 01/30/2024
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