Homeland Security counsel defends department’s progress

As it marks its 10th anniversary, the Homeland Security Department has made progress with “smart programs” by moving away from “one-size-fits-all solutions toward common-sense ones,” a top DHS official said Wednesday.

Seth Grossman, DHS deputy general counsel, said the Obama administration “inherited a very new department,” that was “still but organizing itself in how to work across the federal government and with states and localities.”

Speaking on a panel of frequent DHS critics sponsored jointly by the American Constitution Society and the Open Society Foundation, Grossman cited as an example of solid solutions the decision to abandon a full security fence on the southern U.S. border with Mexico. “We recognized that places differ by terrain and population density, so we used technology [selectively and] border security is at the highest level in 50 years.”

He also praised the Transportation Security Administration’s embrace of risk-based airport passenger screening, the PreCheck program. And he cited efforts by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau to prioritize budgetary resources in enforcing immigration law, focusing on suspects with recent criminal convictions, those who recently crossed the border, and those with past immigration law violations. Immigration courts, similarly, have identified high-priority cases and postponed low-priority ones, such as those involving deferred action for childhood arrivals. “We can improve, but we’ve done a lot in four years,” Grossman said.

Criticism of DHS came from Michael German, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, who said when first stood up, the department “struggled in an environment filled with intelligence agencies to find an area where they could be helpful. But rather than take their time, they rushed in to do something and not something effective.”

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