On 10th anniversary of DHS, panelists question impact of its creation

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The post-9/11 mindset has affected the components of the Homeland Security Department far more than the creation of the department itself 10 years ago, said panelists at a Nov. 28 American Constitution Society event.

The federal immigration apparatus was reconfigured as part of that shuffle when the Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service moved to DHS in 2003, splitting into three agencies. But that change didn't cause the government to treat immigration as more of a security issue, said Wendy Patten, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Foundations.

The shift in immigration to a focus on security-related issues such as border protection would have happened regardless, because of the impact of 9/11, Patten said.

Similarly, while panelist Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized DHS for civil liberties infringements, he said the problems would exist with or without DHS.

"To the extent that DHS is stumbling, they're stumbling along with everyone else," German said. He pointed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies that have targeted Muslims as well as fusion centers that track benign activity they consider suspicious.

He also questioned the extent of information sharing, one of the main reasons for the federal government's post-9/11 reforms.

"If you're sharing information that's not timely, that's erroneous, that violates people's rights--that information sharing is not valuable" and can drown out information that does matter, he said.

Patten also said the government had cast its net too widely in an attempt to be as active as possible in counterterrorism.

German added that while the issues would likely be the same whether or not agencies had been moved to DHS, he did see some potential for change in the fact of the department's existence. Its sheer size means any changes it makes as a whole could reverberate even at other levels of government, he said.

For more:
- go to the event webpage

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