Shifting Strategies

Homeland Security vows to offer protection during COVID-19

The onslaught of COVID-19 has elevated security measures in every border control operation within the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. entry points such as airports, ports and borders are being monitored with many travelers being directed to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

TSA is standing firm with efforts to diminish the probability of the disease being purposefully or unknowingly transported into the United States. TSA has allowed some employees to “self-isolate at home due to being at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 if exposed.” Other federal agencies have adopted special measures as well.

U.S. IMMIGRATIONS AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) faces significant challenges throughout this crisis. ICE and DHS energies address our borders, monitor immigration and criminal activity such as terrorism, gang activity, drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Currently, ICE is not enforcing operations at or near healthcare facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals who are in fear of civil immigration enforcement should not refrain from seeking medical care.

U.S. BORDER PATROL

One of the more significant actions taken by the Border Patrol and TSA relates to the facilitation of expedited efforts to move medical and personal protective equipment across borders as rapidly as possible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with UPS and other similar organizations created “Project Airbridge” to move such services and supplies across the United States.

Separate border control efforts remain limited to essential travel restrictions, which include U.S. citizens and lawful, permanent residents, education-related travel, people traveling to the United States based on work-related activities, and other similar constraints (nafsa.org, 2020). Asylum seekers along the Mexico/ U.S. border have posed serious COVID-19 considerations as well. According to a recent Newsweek article, a majority of Americans say they support efforts to close the border, reduce immigration and ban asylum seekers during the coronavirus pandemic.

SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS RELATING TO TERRORISM

Terrorist groups have flooded social media with encouragement for terrorists to seize this opportunity. With shelter-in-place orders in most states remaining in effect, the nation has seen a decrease in crime overall, with gun violence seeing a steady increase. A University of California research paper estimated that in March through May 2020, there was a 64.3 percent increase in gun sales over what would have been expected at that time based on previous years.

Additionally, the threat of lone-wolf terrorism—like the attack at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, in May 2020—suggests the possibility of acts of terror due to the current situation with COVID-19.

The Department of Homeland Security with cooperation with related federal and state agencies have responded to the challenges arising from COVID-19, even with the loss of their own personnel.

Social distancing policies, along with shelter in place orders, working from home and other health strategies, may indeed prevent the rapid spread of this virus. Will crime continue to rise during this “new normal?” Will terrorists, lone wolfs or others take advantage of this dynamic situation? These answers lie in wait for us in the near future.

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Barry Goodson, a former Marine and law enforcement officer, holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master's degree in administrative justice and security. He teaches criminal justice at Columbia Southern University, is the vice president of the Human Trafficking Investigations & Training Institute and an administrative trainer for the Department of Homeland Security Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program. Goodson is also an author of numerous academic papers and two books, “CAP Mot” and “Country Cop: True Tales from a Texas Deputy Sheriff.”

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