WASHINGTON — Almost 20 years after President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a new policy brief, outlining the 15 areas of reform for DHS Secretary Mayorkas to implement. 

When President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002 on November 25, 2002, he spawned the largest reorganization of the federal government in more than half a century. Framed as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this legislation brought together 22 offices from five federal departments. Even at its creation, the ACLU warned that this mammoth agency, with its sprawling and politically driven mandate, was “constitutionally bankrupt” and “would reach into every nook and cranny of our lives and liberty.” 

The ACLU’s brief, “The Department of Homeland Security, 20 Years On: A Blueprint for Civil Liberties Reform,” reviews major abuses and rights violations of immigrants and American citizens since DHS’ inception, facts about DHS funding and spending, and the staggering lack of accountability for abuse across all areas. The ACLU believes DHS’ problems run deep and the department should no longer exist in its current state. Major reforms include: 

  • Limiting immigration enforcement operations in U.S. communities: DHS should limit Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) from tapping state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in deportations, a practice that leads to racial profiling and harassment of immigrant communities, by ending the 287(g) program – starting with 54 law enforcement agencies with egregious civil rights records;
  • Ending ICE’s for-profit immigration detention: ICE should shutter abusive detention sites including by terminating wasteful contracts with for-profit corporations, and release detained immigrants so they can navigate the immigration system and fairly make their case for protection from deportation; and 
  • Issuing meaningful and comprehensive anti-discrimination policies: Right now, DHS’ patchwork of anti-discrimination policies actually permit discrimination. To remedy this, DHS must explicitly prohibit biased profiling based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, national origin and nationality, sexual orientation, and gender (including gender identity and expression), without any exceptions.

“Over the last two decades, we have seen our major fears about DHS come true,” said Naureen Shah, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU. “DHS has separated children from their parents at our borders, racially profiled and illegally surveilled immigrants and American citizens, and allowed private companies to rake in billions through needlessly detaining immigrants awaiting their court dates. This abuse is antithetical to our rights and our values as a nation. DHS must urgently change course.”

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