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Opinion DHS Secretary Mayorkas: 20 years after 9/11, the fight for safety includes divisiveness at home

14:20  11 september  2021
14:20  11 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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In the aftermath of 9/11, a tree was discovered amidst the rubble of the fallen twin towers. It was a Callery pear tree, in poor shape but still alive. The New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation salvaged the tree, cared for it, and brought it back to its past vitality. The tree is named the “Survivor Tree,” and it now stands beautiful on the grounds of the 9/11 memorial.

Each year, seedlings from the Survivor Tree are given to towns and communities that have endured immense suffering of their own. Tragically, there are many. Towns such as Boston, Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, and others. Seedlings are also planted in destinations of remembrance, tribute, and honor.

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This week, on the morning of Sept. 8, we in the Department of Homeland Security planted one of the Survivor Tree’s seedlings on the grounds of our headquarters in Washington, D.C. Present were personnel from across the Department, some of whom lost loved ones on and after 9/11 and others who were part of the search and rescue operation. Many observed the solemn occasion virtually. All the remarkable people across the Department honor the lives lost by the service we perform to keep the American public safe and our nation’s proud character intact.

a vase of flowers on a tree branch: A Callery pear tree from the Department of Homeland Security planting ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2021. © Benjamin D. Applebaum, DHS Photographer A Callery pear tree from the Department of Homeland Security planting ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2021.

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Creating the DHS to protect the U.S.

As we continue to uphold our ideals and protect our homeland, we are clear-eyed about the terrorist threat that persists and how it has significantly evolved over the past two decades. In the years immediately following 9/11, our focus was on the foreign terrorist who sought to harm us within our borders and threaten our interests and assets abroad. It was during this time that the Department of Homeland Security was created to protect our homeland from this foreign threat, and we built a new architecture to screen and vet individuals seeking to enter our country by air, land, or sea.

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The security system that we developed included critical federal partners from the law enforcement, counterterrorism, and intelligence communities. We populated our databases, built a multi-layered alert system, identified individuals of concern, and barred some from flying altogether.

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We accompanied our focus on homeland security with a call for vigilance on the part of local communities and individuals alike. Ultimately, the first major evolution in the terrorist threat emerged in the form of the homegrown violent extremist – the individual in America who was radicalized by a foreign terrorist organization’s ideology. That became the most prominent terrorism-related threat to the homeland. In response, we partnered with first responders, social workers, mental health experts, and local communities to identify the signs of radicalization and counter violent extremism before it occurred.

As the threat landscape continued to evolve, so did our approach to keeping our communities safe.

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At the same time, we experienced challenges in our efforts to develop the programs in a way that built trust and respected individuals’ civil rights and liberties and their right to privacy. Technological innovation and the expanding reach of new tools made our challenges that much more complex. While foreign terrorist groups and their radical ideologies remained an important priority, in more recent years the most significant and persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland became the domestic violent extremist, the individual whose radicalization to violence is borne of an ideology of hate or false narrative often spread on social media or other online platforms.

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Divisiveness foments danger

Too many people have exploited this threat to create divisiveness across our country, including by fomenting a dangerous culture of “us vs. them” that has contributed to the current threat landscape where some Americans are motivated to inflict harm on others here at home. They do so often in protest of our collective drive to achieve equity and racial justice. This threat disproportionately impacts communities of color and other minority groups, and it increasingly targets government facilities and personnel.

Our nation watched in horror as this threat materialized in the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, when our symbol of democracy was desecrated.

I feared for my country, my colleagues, my husband: I had no idea how bad it really was at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

a group of people that are standing in the grass: Homeland Secretary Mayorkas plants a Callery pear tree in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2021. © Benjamin D. Applebaum, DHS Photographer Homeland Secretary Mayorkas plants a Callery pear tree in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2021.

As the threats to America have significantly evolved over the past 20 years, the Biden administration remains committed to developing the agile infrastructure required to defend against an ever-changing threat landscape. We will remain vigilant, and we will not forget that protecting America means that we will defend the principles on which it was founded.

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In the coming months, the seedling on the grounds of the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters will become a new, beautiful Callery pear tree. It will produce seedlings that we will distribute to other destinations of remembrance, tribute, and honor. The trees that grow will symbolize the enduring strength of the democracy that is America. The women and men of the Department of Homeland Security help make this possible through their service and their sacrifice.

Today of all days, let us stand in solemn tribute to those who swore an oath to protect our nation and who make it all possible. Let us remain strong and united today, just as we did in the days after 9/11.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas is the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Mayorkas is the first Latino and immigrant confirmed to serve as Homeland Security Secretary, and the 7th individual confirmed to lead the department since its creation. Follow him on Twitter: @SecMayorkas

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DHS Secretary Mayorkas: 20 years after 9/11, the fight for safety includes divisiveness at home

Pope Francis Urges Education for Young Afghans Amid Resettlement of Refugees .
"I pray that many countries welcome them and protect those who are seeking a new life," the pontiff said on Sunday."I also pray for the internally displaced so that they have help and necessary protection. May young Afghans receive an education, which is an essential good for human development," he said during his weekly blessing at St. Peter's Square, Reuters reported.

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