By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited the University of Michigan-Dearborn Jan.13 where he spoke on national security, immigrants and refugees across the country and within the community.
Prior to his public address, Johnson met with 20 university student leaders for a roundtable discussion on national security issues and issues on campus, then addressed about 150 students, faculty and elected officials.
Johnson delivered remarks on the department’s efforts to engage communities to form partnerships focused on fostering better public safety and homeland security.
Efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorism were the main topics of discussion during the address.
With Dearborn being one of the largest concentrations of Muslim-Americans in the United States, Johnson said the government wants to work with the community and build relations with its residents and leaders.
“Now more than ever it is important to build bridges with all Muslims, including immigrants and refugees,” Johnson said. “This is an essential element of addressing issues within a community.”
Johnson said the type of terrorism today has changed since past acts of terror such as 9/11. He explained that terrorist attacks today are described as “terror inspired” meaning they are derived from past incidents.
“Terrorists today are recruited, trained and sent from overseas to conduct terrorist attacks in our country or trained here through the Internet,” Johnson said. “These types of threats are hard to detect, making for a more challenging situation.”
During the address, Johnson said 15 airports overseas have a pre-clearance building where travelers undergo immigration, customs and agriculture inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection before boarding a direct flight to the United States.
This reduces wait times since the clearance is completed before departure from foreign airports rather than upon arrival in the United States.
As for refugee resettlement, Johnson said the government is prepared to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year who are fleeing violence and terrorism.
For the future, Johnson said the department is working with technology and social media companies to develop different ways to spread positive messages regarding Islam.
“We must not vilify Muslim-Americans in this country,” he said. “The very essence of the Islamic faith is peace.”
Arab American Civil Rights League founder Nabih Ayad voiced his disappointment with Johnson, because there was no effort to meet with community leaders during his time in Dearborn.
Ayad also asked Johnson to take another look at no-fly and watch lists issues to find a better solution.
“I heard what you’ve said,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about his before. This will not be my last trip to Dearborn, I plan on being back.”
Finally, Johnson spoke about immigration and the increase of women and children attempting to cross the border from Central American into the United States recently.
“The number of illegal immigrants who try to cross the border has decreased overall,” he said. “In 2000 it was 1.6 million people and in 2015 the number was 331,000 people.
Johnson also encouraged students in attendance to pursue a career serving the country to help create more diversity and connections between the government and communities.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)