Secretary Mayorkas Remarks
Secretary Jeh Johnson Portrait Unveiling
January 24, 2023
Good morning and welcome. It is really wonderful to see all of you here today. It is heartwarming, inspiring, and a source of pride to see friends and colleagues past and present, you have given so much of yourselves to our Department and our country, and who mean so very much to all of us.
The unveiling of a former Cabinet Secretary’s portrait is always a very special occasion. Jeh, Susan, it is, of course, a special way to honor you and your family and your service to our country. It is also special for all of us here, for those whom we represent, and for our Department as an institution. It is a mark of our progress from infancy twenty years ago to the mature institution we are today.
Thank you, Secretary Chertoff and General Kelly, for being here today and for the contributions you have made in defining and strengthening our Department and the security of our homeland.
I am pleased to be here hosting you in this beautiful Coast Guard building on our St. Elizabeths campus. Those of you who are veterans of the NAC will especially appreciate this space and our headquarters here. We have come a long way – from the early days when Tom Ridge was organizing in spare offices, even setting up desks just outside of elevators, and from the old chapel that served as our gathering place at the NAC.
Our Department is almost twenty years old. Twenty years ago, the cyber threats that have accompanied growing interconnectivity and rapid technological advance were not uppermost in our minds. The severity and gravity of extreme weather events were not increasing at our current rate. The asymmetric threats posed by hostile nation states were not ever-present. The lone wolves and small groups of individuals resident in the United States who are radicalized to deadly violence by false narratives, ideologies of hate, or anti-government sentiments did not strike our sacred institutions and daily lives as they do now.
Today, homeland security is national security. The threats now facing our country are more diverse and dynamic than ever before, yet our Department can address them successfully because we are able to build on the contributions of those who have preceded us. There are many of you here.
Today, we celebrate one of those individuals, one of our great leaders, Secretary Johnson.
Some of you might be awaiting the decision whether there will be a 12th season of the Emmy-winning reality series Undercover Boss, a television show that depicts high-level executives leaving the purported comfort of their offices, let me repeat that, purposed comfort of their offices, to secretly take other-level jobs within their companies to find out how things really work.
We in the Department of Homeland Security have had our undercover boss. During his tenure, Secretary Johnson donned a TSA Officer’s uniform and spent the day working the security lines at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. When, finally, he revealed to the passengers his true identity as the leader of the entire department that oversaw TSA, the passenger responded, “Congratulations on your promotion, young man!”
That anecdote reflects important qualities of Secretary Johnson and his leadership. A drive to understand the work lives of our colleagues out in the field, what they experience day-to-day, the challenges they confront, the experiences of the people whom we serve, and what we need and what we can do to be better for all of them. From that on-the-line experience came investments in new technology, operational advances, and investments in our people.
Our refugee program is a national jewel that for decades has shined throughout the world. The life of the refugee by definition involves displacement from one’s home. It too often also involves great suffering and tragedy, as my family knows all too well. We stand strong as a nation when we stand by our commitment to serve as a refuge for those fleeing persecution. Secretary Johnson has spoken profoundly and powerfully of that commitment, and he helped bring it to life. While visiting Turkey, Secretary Johnson met a young refugee named Jafaar who, eventually and most fortunately, reached the United States. The Secretary and Jafaar stayed in touch, and on World Refugee Day Jafaar joined Secretary Johnson to share his story and present a powerful human touch to the words the Secretary had expressed to the American public. It is the human touch that Secretary Johnson brought to our work and our care for the most vulnerable. It was the touch echoed in his and Dr. DiMarco’s meetings with unaccompanied children on the border in the summer of 2014.
Secretary Johnson is a native of New York. He was in his home city on September 11, 2001. That day of lost lives and changed lives - changed the life of our country. It led, of course, to the creation of our Department. Secretary Johnson understood what it would mean for us as a Department to return to the place where the twin towers fell, where so many of those lives were lost, and demonstrate to the world our indefatigable commitment to mission, our resilience, and our relentless hope in the future. He shepherded our return to One World Trade Center and held a ceremony ahead of the 2016 anniversary of 9/11 that recognized our employees, including those who were there on the day of the 1993 bombing. Our employees who devote so much, with honor and integrity, to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.
In honoring Secretary Johnson by unveiling his portrait today, we honor the Secretary, Dr. Susan DiMarco, their children Natalie and Jeh Jr. – when one serves, the family serves – and we honor all those past and present who have made and continue to make the Department as great as it is and the future of America promising for generations to come.
Our Department can fulfill its vital mission today, and will continue to do so in the days, months, and years ahead, because of the talent, dedication, and lasting contributions of its public servants past, present, and future, including those of the leader we celebrate today.
Friends and colleagues, please join me in recognizing Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson.