WASHINGTON – Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors 91st Winter Meeting.
The transcript is below:
Good morning and thank you. The Department of Homeland Security was created nearly twenty years ago, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001,with a mission to safeguard the American people and our way of life from the threat of foreign terrorists – individuals abroad, radicalized by a foreign terrorist ideology, who sought to enter the United States and do us grave harm.
Over the course of the next ten to twelve years, as the terrorism threat evolved, our focus increasingly became drawn to the homegrown violent extremists, the individual already resident here who was radicalized to violence by a foreign terrorist ideology.
Today, one of the most significant terrorism threats we face is posed by lone offenders and small groups of individuals who commit acts of violence motivated by a range of ideological beliefs or personal grievances. Of these actors, domestic violent extremists represent one of the most persistent threats to the United States. These individuals are often radicalized online and look to conduct attacks with easily accessible weapons.
The evolution of the terrorism threat does not mean that the threat of yesterday no longer exists. Tragically, we see new forms of terrorism and targeted violence emerge as old forms prove persistent. That stark reality was evident this past New Year’s Eve in New York City, when, motivated by Islamic extremism, a 19-year-old individual attacked three police officers with a machete.
While the threat of terrorism and targeted violence has evolved, different types of threats have emerged, and preexisting challenges have become more acute.
Twenty years ago, the threat of cyber attacks was not uppermost in our minds. Yet, our world and our lives today are far more interconnected than they were in 2003, and with that advance has come increased risk. We have seen schools, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, water systems, and elections targeted by cyber criminals and adverse nation states. Our homes and our lifestyles are increasingly reliant on connected technology, from our phones and computers to our appliances and cars. The need, therefore, for personal and collective cybersecurity is absolute.
Early this past December, individuals attacked an electric substation in Moore County, North Carolina, knocking out power for tens of thousands of residents. Less than one week later, an unrelated attack was reported on an electric substation in South Carolina. On December 25th – on Christmas Day – four electric substations in the State of Washington were attacked, leaving 18,000 people without power.
Our nation’s critical infrastructure is increasingly under attack, and we must prioritize its protection and be vigilant in doing so.
When I addressed you last year, I spoke of the unprecedented severity and increasing frequency of extreme weather events, noting the commendable work of Mayfield, Kentucky Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan in response to a tornado that demolished the homes and buildings throughout her city. This past week has seen atmospheric rivers cause floods, evacuations, and deaths in California, and tornadoes rip through Alabama and Georgia.
In addition to combating these threats, the Department is also working, of course, to secure our borders. The challenge of migration is not unique to the United States, nor to the border communities that confront it every day. Around the world, there are more displaced people than at any time since World War II. Mass migration has gripped our own hemisphere. There are 2.5 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia and 1.5 million in Peru; Brazil and Chile are hosting more than 350,000 Haitians, and the number of displaced Nicaraguans in Costa Rica has more than doubled in the last 12 months alone.
The threats and challenges we face are evolving, increasingly diverse, and dynamic. Yet, we can meet this moment if, and only if, we work together. Your leadership is vital not only to the prosperity of your cities, but also to their fundamental security.
Our Department, our Department of Homeland Security, is, fundamentally, a department of partnerships. To address the threat of domestic violent extremism or other forms of terrorism and targeted violence, our grant programs provide funding across all levels of government and to our non-governmental partners. Grant funds help law enforcement agencies increase their intelligence and information sharing capabilities and strengthen their terrorism prevention activities; they help harden cities and the non-profit organizations within them.
For example, our Nonprofit Security Grant Program provides support for physical security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack. Our Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, or CP3, provides funds to establish or enhance capabilities to prevent targeted violence and terrorism, while also sharing prevention programs and intervention models to assist individuals who are exhibiting signs of radicalizing to violence.
One of our most critical missions at the Department is to provide intelligence and information to the broadest audience at the lowest classification level possible. We have released more than 100 intelligence products over the past two years, and we actively share information about threats across all levels of government through our more than 130 intelligence officers deployed across the country who sit side-by-side with your law enforcement professionals to share information in a real-time daily basis.
To address the cybersecurity imperative, our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA as it is commonly known, has advisors in each state to assess one’s systems and make recommendations to strengthen them, teams that are dispatched to analyze and remediate intrusions, and a new grant program to provide funding to help build your city’s cybersecurity regime. Our critical infrastructure faces risk not only from cyberattacks but also from physical attacks that I mentioned earlier. CISA’s advisors help governments and critical infrastructure owners reduce vulnerabilities through assessments, training, and other resources.
To prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and prove resilient to extreme weather events and other natural disasters, FEMA is on the ground, in communities, there with you to provide disaster relief. We need to work together to respond not only to the emergency of the moment, but to understand the evolving risk landscape and strengthen our communities to be more resilient. Last year the Building Resilience Infrastructure and Communities program saw a two-fold increase in available funding – to $2.3 billion dollars. This funding helps harden communities against the adverse impacts of climate change.
We are executing a comprehensive strategy to secure our borders and build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration process. Working within a broken system in desperate need of legislative reform, two weeks ago we announced new lawful pathways for noncitizens seeking relief in the United States, accompanied by a consequence regime for those who do not avail themselves of those processes. Since then, encounters from the targeted countries have dropped significantly. FEMA is providing Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds to help cities around the country recover or defray the costs of noncitizen arrivals; CBP and ICE are working closely with cities to share information and coordinate the disposition of noncitizens in immigration enforcement proceedings.
We are also protecting the integrity of the American workplace, the rights of workers, and the right to fair competition. This past Friday we announced that noncitizen workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, the violation of labor rights now access a streamlined and expedited process to obtain protection from retaliatory action if they are part of a labor enforcement investigation. Critically, this includes investigations by state, county, and municipal agencies. We welcome partnership with your labor enforcement agencies to ensure vulnerable workers are aware of the protections available to them and predatory employers are held accountable.
We are here to partner with you, to provide you with the information, training, funds, and other resources you need to protect the residents whose security and wellbeing are our collective responsibility. We need to be equipped to overcome the challenges that are upon us, plan for what tomorrow will bring, and protect the residents of our communities across this great country.
We make the greatest difference in the lives of the people we serve when we all work together.
It is my hope that you will know our Department of Homeland Security to be a trusted partner in your vitally important leadership, just as we see all of you.