Homeland Security chief talks confidence in Detroit subway tours
The head of the Department of Homeland Security met with a wide range of religious, civic and military leaders in metro Detroit on Friday, touring the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. and having candid conversations with Arab-American advocates. in Dearborn that their community was being discriminated against.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also had lunch at Al-Ameer Restaurant with Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, who told Mayorkas about concerns Arab Americans have had about the department’s profiling of their community over the past 20 years. . Mayorkas then met with about 20 Arab-American community leaders and city officials at the Dearborn Administrative Center, which houses the city hall offices.
Mayorkas is the latest Homeland Security chief to visit Dearborn and meet with Arab Americans, a tradition that dates back to the post-9/11 era. The last two meetings, in 2016 and 2017, have been contentious, but this one was more cordial, according to Arab Americans who attended the meetings.
“People who attended the event were hurt by the difficult experiences of the agencies and their practices, and many blamed the culture,” said Dr. Yahya Basha of West Bloomfield, who attended the event, afterwards. meeting.
But during Friday’s talks, there was a “spirit of cooperation and positivity,” said Basha, founder and president of Basha Diagnostics and an advocate for the Arab-American community. “I think he’s a very positive person.”
At the same time, Arab Americans have criticized the department and other US government agencies for their double standards, such as how refugees from the Middle East are often blocked from entering when there is now a a more welcoming position for Ukrainian refugees.
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During the meeting, Mayorkas took notes and said he would address some of their concerns. He also talked about working to gain the trust of various communities, acknowledging that some past practices may not have worked, people who attended the meeting said.
Mayorkas, who is Jewish, is the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the department.
Mayorkas was accompanied on his visits by U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. At the Zekelman Holocaust Center, Mayorkas met with 14 religious and community leaders representing Jewish, Chaldean, Muslim, African American and Hindu groups from metro Detroit, according to an aide to Peters. The meeting also included a member of the Ukrainian American community, Mayorkas said.
The aide did not specify the names of the leaders who were at the meeting at the Holocaust center. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment and details about Mayorkas’ visit.
Mayorkas and Peters then toured Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County, meeting with Department of Homeland Security leadership and base personnel, some with Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard, all of which are under the department.
“The senator and I encountered a diverse community … here at this extraordinary Holocaust center,” Mayorkas told reporters at a press conference at the center.
The Holocaust Center is “an important message of honor and remembrance for the 6 million people who lost their lives to a Holocaust, fueled by an ideology of hatred and all that this country and a great part of the world oppose each other,” he said.
“I also think it’s worth noting the diversity of the community we met. We met one person who represented the Ukrainian American community. … We in the department are very proud of how quickly we are taking action to grant temporary protected status to you, Ukrainian residents in the U.S. We are also proud as a country to come to the aid of Ukrainians in Ukraine, who have suffered war crimes and other horrors not caused by a Russian attack on the sovereignty and freedom of the Ukrainian people.
Mayorkas and Peters spoke about the issue of domestic extremism, saying the department is increasingly focused on this issue.
Mayorkas also spoke about the issue of trust building and minority communities.
“Trust is not built overnight,” he said. “And that’s something we’re very, very focused on. … We rolled back so many policies in the previous administration, it only exacerbated the level of distrust that occurred and that preceded it. We build bridges between immigrant communities and the Department of Homeland Security. When I first took office, I expressed the position of this ministry that fundamentally it is a ministry of partnerships, that we share an interest in safety, security and welfare of communities with different backgrounds, different ideologies, different faiths, that is who we are as a country.
Peters noted that he helped secure nearly $250 million in funding for the nonprofit Security Grants program, including $3.5 million for 30 houses of worship and nonprofits around the Michigan. Of 30 Michigan groups that have received funding, 15 are in the Detroit metro area.
An aide to Peters said his office could not share the names of those groups for security reasons.
At the Dearborn meeting, Arab Americans raised the issue of profiling at points of entry, such as airports and border crossings. The problem persists, said Abed Hammoud, a Dearborn attorney who attended the meeting.
“People also talked about how … the government treats refugees from Syria and Yemen and others and in relation to how Ukrainians have been treated, like how some things have moved so fast” for have helped Ukrainians compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Hammoud mentioned.
Basha noted that thousands of Syrian refugees initially admitted to the United States were later stranded and still unable to enter, languishing in other countries like Jordan.
Bilal Baydoun, a spokesman for Abdullah Hammoud, said the mayor of Dearborn spoke to Mayorkas about concerns he and other Arab Americans had about “racial profiling, being unfairly targeted.”
Arab Americans said it was unfair for the department and other federal agencies to label their community a center of terrorism.
“We don’t deserve to be treated as if we’re harboring this activity,” Baydoun said, outlining the concerns expressed at the meeting.
In meetings with Mayorkas, Hammoud “emphasized that the people of this community are just as American as anyone else.”
Since FEMA falls under the department, flooding issues were also discussed.
Others who attended the Dearborn meeting: Dearborn Police Chief Issa Shahin; Dearborn Fire Chief Joe Murray; Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi; Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun; Maha Freij, President and CEO of ACCESS, an Arab-American social services group; entrepreneur Nasser Beydoun and Fay Beydoun, a leader of the Michigan Democratic Party.