Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was peddling misinformation amid its calls to dismantle the department responsible for public security.
Wolf made the comments in an op-ed published on Newsweek on Monday in response to sharp criticism leveled at the DHS by the ACLU. The civil rights advocacy group published its claims about the department in a separate op-ed published on USA Today earlier this month.
In their op-ed, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called for the end of the post-9/11 department while criticizing tactics used by the department’s agents to quell violent rioting in Portland, Oregon, around a federal courthouse that lasted for more than two consecutive months.
“The ACLU sees violence on our streets and its first instinct is to criticize law enforcement and call for the dismantling of the very institution established to protect the homeland, the American people and our values,” Wolf wrote in his op-ed. “In 865 words calling to dismantle DHS, it is telling the ACLU found space to condemn our law enforcement officers, but absolutely none to condemn violent criminals.”
The Trump administration’s decision to send federal agents to Portland during the violence drew intense scrutiny from Democrats amid allegations that some of the tactics used to arrest rioters were unconstitutional and had violated civil rights. Protesters at the time claimed that federal agents wearing camouflage and tactical gear without identifying insignia were detaining individuals and placing them into unmarked vehicles without stating the basis for an arrest, according to various accounts made to media outlets.
Many local and state officials, as well as congressional lawmakers, claimed the deployment of the federal forces escalated the unrest in Oregon’s largest city, saying that the decision was tantamount to federal overreach or a dictatorship.
The ACLU claimed in its op-ed that “people across the political spectrum watched in disbelief as federal agents were deployed to American cities—despite objections by mayors and governors—to escalate violence against protesters.” The group also described DHS’s operation as “paramilitary.”
Wolf, who has repeatedly defended the actions of the federal agents, rejected the group’s claims, saying that the actions of DHS agents who were sent to Portland were adhering to proper procedures.
“This tired myth has been debunked time and again,” Wolf wrote. “DHS’s service in Portland was compelled by our congressional mandate to protect a federal courthouse. The executive branch fulfilling laws passed by Congress is no violation of civil liberties—it is exactly how our constitutional system is designed to function.”
The head of the DHS went on to respond to the ACLU’s call to break DHS up into smaller federal agencies and reduce its funding, arguing that those comments are “beyond reckless,” “dangerous,” and “merely an echo of ‘Abolish ICE’ and ‘Defund the Police.'”
In his op-ed, Romero described the DHS as a “loaded weapon that sits on the proverbial coffee table in the Oval Office” while claiming that its history has been “filled with violence, the stoking of fear and a lack of oversight.” He also claimed that the DHS’s law enforcement activities target communities of color and immigrants under the “veil” of security.
Wolf argued that the group was ignoring the fact that the department was founded with the purpose of safeguarding the country from terrorists who had exploited gaps in U.S. immigration enforcement and national security systems when the agencies related to homeland security were operating separately.
“Willfully ignoring DHS’s duty, the ACLU permits its all-consuming political disdain for this administration to eclipse these facts,” he wrote. “Readers will note the ACLU’s cry to dismantle was conspicuously absent during DHS actions under the Obama administration. While the ACLU’s supposed principles may shift with the political winds, facts do not.”
The DHS was formed by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the purpose of being a “national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism and respond to any future attacks.” The department, which currently has more than 240,000 employees, aims to coordinate and unify national homeland security efforts.
Ending DHS will also end the operation of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), USCG, CBP, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), FEMA, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Secret Service (USSS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Management Directorate, Science and Technology Directorate, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and the Office of Operations Coordination.
The Trump administration’s DHS also faced wide criticism last year for its immigration enforcement at the southern border during an influx of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers last year. Congress members such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called for its elimination at the time.