The panel discussion also examined other homeland security areas, including cybersecurity, immigration, and the department’s overall performance since it was established ten years ago last Sunday.
Jamil Jaffer, senior counsel at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called on Congress to reconcile different cybersecurity bills and pass cybersecurity legislation.
“The perfect should not be the enemy of the good,” he said, stressing that the United States is under constant cyberattack, primarily from China. Therefore Congress must act before something truly devastating happens. “Crisis,” Jaffer warned, “makes for bad legislation.”
The discussion surrounding DHS’s tenth anniversary wasn’t all doom and gloom, however.
DHS, currently the third largest department within the federal government, has become a much more efficient and targeted organization under the Obama administration, eschewing one-size-fits-all solutions, Grossman said. He pointed to the Southwest border as a change, noting the Bush administration’s support for a border fence that critics called impracticable.
“This administration moved to a more targeted approach where we have different kinds of personnel, technology, and other resources depending on what made sense for that area of the border,” he said. “In our view, border security is at its highest level in over 50 years.”
Wendy Patten, a senior policy analyst working on immigration issues at the Open Society Foundation, tempered Grossman’s analysis and cautioned against using immigration policy as a counterterrorism tool. “You have the issue of targeting full communities,” she said, referencing the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
Suspended in 2011, the most controversial part of NSEERs required all males 16 years or older visiting the United States on temporary nonimmigrant visas from certain countries, overwhelmingly Muslim, to register with local immigration offices. According to the American Immigration Council, not one terrorist was identified and apprehended through the NSEERs program.
Despite criticism from the panelists, Grossman believes better days are ahead for the department. DHS “will continue to build upon the progress we’ve made on a lot fronts,” he said, assuring the audience that the department is “constantly looking for ways to improve the programs we have.”
♦ Photo courtesy of the American Constiution Society