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Civil Rights    
Remarks by Michael Chertoff, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
To the Anti-Defamation League’s National Leadership Conference
May 2, 2007, Washington, D.C.
(as delivered)
Posted: May 02, 2007

Thank you, Glen. Thank you for that introduction. But more than that, what a taskmaster. I mean, you've got all the cell phones off, all the plates and the forks are down. I'm very impressed.
“We've had the opportunity to partner with the ADL on a number of issues … We've partnered on the highly acclaimed advance training school course on terrorism, extremism, and civil liberties. Our Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has been working closely with ADL, and we've just completed a course for over 30 of our colleagues at DHS, working with the ADL on these issues of terrorism and civil liberties.” – Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff

It's delightful to be here with you this afternoon, and also to be here with my old friend, Abe Foxman, and with Rick Barton. And, again, thank you to Glen for doing such a fine job with the introduction.

I had a little bit of an opportunity to look at the speakers list, and I know you have had a tremendous roster of speakers address you during this conference. I guess the challenge to me is, since I think I'm the last of the speakers, is how to figure out how to follow all of these very tough acts.

I know your speakers have also talked about a host of issues, many of which actually do intersect with my department, which is not only the third largest in the government, and the newest in the government, but has probably the broadest mandate of any in the United States government. You've dealt with issues and heard about issues such as human rights, immigration, Middle Eastern policy and interfaith relations. And the very breadth of that set of issues points to the indelible imprint left by ADL on so many areas of our life throughout the decades in the past and as we enter into the 21st century, where we have so many new challenges to face around the world.

We've had the opportunity, as Glen said, to partner with the ADL on a number of issues including the protection of refugees and dealing with the challenge of racial profiling. We've partnered on the highly acclaimed advance training school course on terrorism, extremism, and civil liberties. By providing this course since 2003, ADL has equipped hundreds of graduates from over 150 law enforcement agencies with vital information about terror networks, extremist movements and civil liberties protections. I'm glad to say when I was U.S. attorney in New Jersey – going back almost 20 years now – I worked with the ADL in New Jersey on many of these same issues, although, of course, we were not dealing with Al-Qaeda in those days.

And as Glen mentioned, our Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has been working closely with ADL, and we've just completed a course for over 30 of our colleagues at DHS, working with the ADL, on these issues of terrorism and civil liberties.

So these are all areas of fertile cooperation and joint activity which we want to continue to nurture and see flourish over the years and decades to come. I might also add that just this last Friday, we announced our Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which is part of our effort to partner with other elements of the private sector – including faith-based organizations – to make sure that we are getting them the protection they need in a world in which, regrettably, synagogues and other religious institutions have now become target sets for extremists, along with government buildings and military installations.

I'm going to talk briefly about two issues that fall within the broad range of your concerns today. The first of these is homeland security, and the second is immigration. Both of these have in common the fact that we have to balance things – we have to balance our over-riding commitment to security and public safety, but also our equally important commitment to our values and our way of life. And as we stand here almost six years after September 11th, we have to look at all of these things in the light of a set of challenges of the 21st century that I don't think 10 years ago we would have foreseen.

As we look back on September 11th, we realize now, of course, even with the perspective of several years, that the attacks on that morning were not merely attacks on our fellow citizens – with a tremendous, painful loss of life; they were not merely attacks on our economy – and they were clearly aimed and destined at destroying our economic life; but above and beyond those, they were also attacks on our freedom and our liberties.

And from that basic premise, that the war that was launched by Al-Qaeda is a war on our freedoms and liberties, and not just on our persons and our way of life, comes two very important conclusions. First, if we do care about our civil rights and our civil liberties, and if we are determined to pass them on to our children and to our children's children, then we have to make sure that we are securing our homeland against those who would rob us of our freedoms.

But at the same time as we seek to secure our homeland, we cannot imperil the very freedoms and values that we're trying to defend. To use a phrase that former Attorney General Ashcroft used to use, "We have to think outside the box, but not outside the Constitution." So as I talk to you about homeland security, and when I talk to you about immigration, I want to talk from the perspective of both of these basic principles: the need to protect our liberties against attack, but also the need to do so in a way that fosters and cherishes those liberties.

So let me first talk about the threat we face from Al-Qaeda and from the ideologues of terror. There is certainly no question about the fact that the ideology and the movement that was behind the attacks on September 11th, and the attacks that preceded September 11th in East Africa, and against the USS Cole, and the attacks that have followed September 11th around the world, that ideology wants to destroy liberty and freedom of thought wherever it may be found.

When Al-Qaeda and the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they were very bold about what their agenda was, their effort to uproot and exterminate any vestige of freedom of thought. They trampled on the rights of women. They destroyed the rights of religious minorities, as vividly exemplified by those images we saw of those great statues going back, I think, to the days of – centuries ago, that were destroyed because they were viewed as somehow inconsistent with the ruling ideology. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda violated every human right in the service of their extreme views and they committed unspeakable atrocities against those who dared to oppose their rule.

There is also no question that the inheritors of that vision of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who function today have as their aim not only revolution in their own countries, but the propagation of an extreme ideology all around the world. The goal of bin Laden and those who ally themselves with him is a totalitarian, theocratic empire to be achieved by waging war not only on soldiers, but on civilians, as well – indeed, sometimes preferably on civilians, and using any means possible. And that includes literally the use of weapons of mass destruction, or the blackmailing of nations by threats to use such weapons if we should ever be so unfortunate as the day would come that Al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers obtain these weapons.

Now, six years after those attacks, there are some who are beginning to downplay the threat to our homeland that comes each day from these radical ideologues, who say we ought to reconfigure our view of this and really treat it as another species of the kinds of challenges from terrorists that we experienced in the '70s and '80s and '90s, from the Baader-Meinhof gang or the Red Brigade or even the Irish Republican Army. Some people say that even the rhetoric, using the term "war" somehow overstates and inflates the challenge that we face.

I disagree with that. I begin with Osama bin Laden's fatwa of February 23, 1998, which was literally a declaration of war against America and Americans, beginning with a false accusation that America had declared war on all Islam, and ending with a command – and I'm quoting here – to "kill the Americans and their allies, civilian and military, in any country where it is possible to do it."

Those who somehow question whether we are truly at war have forgotten that bin Laden and his allies have spent the past decade doing exactly what they promised that they would do: plotting strikes designed not only to kill as many people as possible, but to topple our global system of security and safety and prosperity. And those who forget that we are at war, forget as well that were it not for the actions that America and her allies have taken – destroying Al-Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan; supporting fledgling democracies around the world, including in Iraq; deploying intelligence assets around the globe; capturing or killing terrorist leaders in every continent; and remaining vigilant at home – were it not for these efforts, there could well be and could well have been more 9/11 attacks in this country.   

Clearly we are at war, and we are at war not just to defend our country and our people, but to defend freedom of thought for every place in the world. I'm reminded of the fact of that war every single morning, when I sit down and I look at the day's threat assessments and intelligence, all of which are evidence of a militarized, networked enemy, intent on attacking our homeland and destroying our values.

It is true that the enemies we face do not have all of the elements of traditional state power, the kinds of things we remember 50 or 60 years ago we used to see in the Second World War or perhaps in the Korean War. But the fact of the matter is, they are nonetheless as dangerous in terms of intent, capability and possible consequence as any enemy this country has ever faced. And if they are currently stateless, it is not because Al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers do not want to have a state. In fact, what they seek to do is to set down roots, to create states, or at least mini-states, which will be safe havens from which they can construct platforms to launch further attacks in the service of their ultimate vision of a totalitarian caliphate.

The enemy that we face may not have successfully attacked our homeland in over five years, but that's because we've been able to disrupt plots that were designed to attack our homeland, most vividly demonstrated in the recent August plots in London, last year, which were designed to take bombs onto airliners flying from the United Kingdom to the United States and blow them up, killing thousands of people, and attacking the vital network that connects us to the rest of the world. And of course, one cannot fail to have noted the convictions yesterday in Great Britain of those who plotted to use ammonium nitrate to blow up shopping centers and nightclubs and other places of peaceful commerce in the service of the very same enemy and the very same extremist ideology.

And perhaps most sobering of all, this enemy that we face may not yet have acquired weapons of mass destruction, but it is not because they do not wish to do so. And that has not happened only because we continue to work with nations across the world to prevent that nightmare from becoming a reality.

In short, what I would say we face is a threat of an ideological dimension – from a serious enemy that poses the greatest challenge to freedom in the world since the days of Stalinism and Nazism. I've talked about some of the ways we defend against that threat. Some of it is by taking the war to the enemy overseas; some of it is by working with other nations to help them dismantle plots in their own countries – again, as we saw Saudi Arabia announce earlier this week with the arrest and disposition of well over a hundred potential terrorists in that country.

But of course, a lot of what we have to do – and this is largely in the domain of my department – is to secure our homeland by taking numerous measures here at home. And that's where, of course, we always have to be mindful about the second pillar that I talked about at the outset of my remarks. We have to defend our freedom and our way of life, but we have to do so in a way that is consistent with our freedom and our way of life.

So what we are doing at every stage is always asking the question, how do we balance our need for security with a need to carry out that strategic effort in a way that fosters, rather than undercuts, our values.

Now of course, this same issue of balancing the pillar of security with the pillar of our values arises in the issue of immigration. And I know you heard about this, I think earlier today, from Senator Kennedy, who talked to you on this issue, which is now very much on the front burner of people's minds, and, to some degree, the political agenda here in this country.

And again, we're balancing our commitment to the security of the country to making sure that we know who wants to come in and we can determine who we want to admit, with the fact that we want to conduct ourselves in a way that is fair and humane and consistent with our values.

That means recognizing that there are strongly, deeply held passions on all sides of these issues; people who can in positive good faith make arguments that are diametrically contradictory, because this is such a complicated issue and touches so many of us where our core values are.

But let me lay out some basic principles I think which, hereto, reflect the kind of balance that we're trying to achieve. First, I have to say that allowing unrestricted, illegal immigration through uncontrolled borders in a post-September 11th world is a recipe for trouble. And that's why the debate over immigration reform, particularly after 9/11, takes a special urgency. That's why we take border security very seriously. And that's why under President Bush's direction we are doubling the Border Patrol, we've put National Guard on the border to bridge us until we get the Border Patrol fully recruited and trained and deployed, and why we are using modern technology to try to give us the visibility we need across our borders, to make sure that we can continue to admit people through the front door, because we have made sure that the back door is locked.

This, of course, is not merely a matter of dealing with a potential of terrorists coming through, but dealing with drug dealers, human traffickers, and also dealing with economic migrants who may be coming across for motives that are not designed to harm the United States, but who nevertheless pose a challenge to our ability to manage that fundamental element of our own sovereignty, which is the ability to make the decision about who we admit and who we turn away at our border.

We've seen some results in terms of security that are measurable and concrete, and show a significant change for the better. Illegal border crossings have declined dramatically. In fact, apprehensions at our southern border declined by nearly 30 percent this year. Are we making our borders safer? Absolutely. Are we reducing the number of truly dangerous people who are entering our country? We are. And we turn them away every single day. Are we strengthening the security of our homeland in an age of global terror and global crime? Absolutely, yes.

But again, we have to make sure as we do this, we are upholding our deepest values, affirming our country's identity as a nation that was built by immigrants, a land of tolerance and opportunity, a place that welcomes people who come to do real work that our economy needs to have done. And that means while border security and enforcement is an indispensable foundation of our immigration policy, it cannot be the totality of that policy. There has to be a more comprehensive approach to deal with the challenge of immigration in this country.

Any reform plan has to recognize the economic realities that bring people across sometimes deserts or oceans to come into this country in order to do work. It has to reflect the fact that American employers are seeking to fill jobs that can't be filled, and that the people who are doing that work have to be afforded a level of humanitarian protection and fairness that prevents them from being victimized.

These can only be achieved within a system that enforces the borders, enforces the rules within the country, but also sets up a humane path for dealing with people who are in this country in a way that enforces the law, recognizes the rule of law, but also is fair and humane in the way individuals are treated.

We have to recognize that as long as the economy continues to draw people in, we will need to construct a regulated and appropriate temporary worker program to deal with the kind of work that people are now getting accomplished by luring in and employing people on an illegal basis. And I might point out that a temporary worker plan that deals with economic needs actually enhances our border security because it frees our Border Patrol agents and our enforcement officials to go after the people that we are most concerned about: the drug dealers, the criminals, and the terrorists.

And, of course, a reform plan has to recognize that there are between 11 million and 12 million people in this country who are undocumented, many of whom have families here and who have settled down here, and that the process of addressing their presence has to be one that, again, vindicates the rule of law, but does it in a way that is not harsh or at odds with our fundamental set of American values.

Last year, immigration and customs officers arrested seven times the number of employees and employers as were arrested by the old INS in its last full year of operation. That certainly reflects a commitment to enforcing the law that I do not think we've seen in decades.

But I also have to say, it gives me no joy to see television images of crying children, or people who are working here illegally but otherwise not harming the country or doing anything wrong, being frightened and being removed for enforcement reasons that are completely legitimate, but nevertheless, painful on human basis.

We have to find a sensible way to reconcile our need for security and law enforcement with the pain we feel as human beings when we see people suffer. And that means an approach to the issue of immigration reform that vindicates the law; that offers those who are here illegally, who have otherwise not committed crimes, an opportunity to pay their debt to society and vindicate the rule of law; and that then ultimately gives them a way to regularize their status so that we can satisfy our economic needs, treat people in a way that is fair and humane, but also make it clear that we are not granting an amnesty, forgiveness without penalty, and that we're not giving people who broke the law an advantage over those people who are outside the country waiting patiently to come in in observance of the law.

These are very complicated goals, and many of them may seem inconsistent. But I do believe with hard work and a willingness to listen in good faith to other people's points of view, it is possible, and we do have a real prospect, of constructing a smart, sensible, humane alternative that would help our economy, uphold our fundamental values, but also make sure that we have once again demonstrated that the law and the rules must be obeyed.

As we get into a period of renewed debate on this issue of immigration, let me say this. I'm sometimes asked, do I believe we can get immigration reform? And my response is, I'm reasonably optimistic because I think that the public wants a solution to this problem, which has been around for 20, 30, 40 years. And the public is ready for that solution now.

I do not believe, however, that we will get a solution if every group has the sense that they can walk away with all the marbles, or have all of their desires satisfied. No one will get everything that they want in this process, and no one will lose everything. The essence of putting together a total reform is one that acknowledges the fact that everybody will have to make some kind of sacrifice of their wish list in order to put together a solution that is workable, that addresses our fundamental values, that satisfies the things that people must have, but recognizes there also has to be a little flexibility and give.

This, of course, is the spirit of America. It's the same spirit that worked when the framers sat around and wrote the Constitution. You had small states, you had large states, you had mercantile interests, you had agricultural interests. They all had constituencies which were crying out to be satisfied. And the only reason the Constitution got written is because finally the framers got behind closed doors and they made decisions that they would have to make some compromises and find some way to discern the enduring fundamental values in all these competing interests. And that is what created the document which is the foundation of our country.

Without suggesting we're trying to write a constitution here, what I am suggesting is that the spirit of America is a spirit that finds, out of these many diverse views, commonality and union. And that is the spirit we will have to bring to the table if we're going to get immigration reform done this year and finally give Americans a solution to a problem rather than more complaining about it.

Let me conclude with a last point on the issue of how we reconcile our values, and that has to do with making sure that those who are part of this country all feel that they are part of a single community. Of course, the ADL, I believe, was founded originally out of a recognition of the need to defend the rights of Jewish immigrants in the United States, but it has broadened its mandate beyond that to stand up for all communities, to make sure that all of us live in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.

One of the projects that we in our department are very concerned about is making sure that we continue to develop, cultivate and maintain partnerships with key leaders in our American Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities. If we are going to win the struggle against this ideology of evil, which I began my speech talking about, we can only do it by competing with an ideology and a narrative that is more appealing to young people – in fact to everybody – in this country and around the world. You can't beat a set of ideas, even if they're bad ideas, unless you offer competing ideas. And the only way to develop those ideas and to be able to communicate those ideas is by working with community leaders who are, in fact, those who influence thought and education and belief.

And that's why reaching out to embrace these communities – Arab communities, Muslim communities, and South Asian communities – is so important to us. We need to make sure that everybody in this country, whatever their religious belief and ethnic background, feels connected to the American way and to the government. We have to listen to their concerns and ideas. We have to encourage people from these communities to join public service, to become part of the FBI, or DHS, or part of the military, so that they have a full stake in the venture and nobody feels excluded.

It is one of the strengths that this country has had, and an advantage that we have that some countries overseas do not have, that we've been willing to weave new immigrants and second- and third-generation decedents of immigrants into the fabric of our country – living side by side, raising our families together, prospering in our professions and our businesses, and worshiping in accordance with the dictates of our conscience.

The motto on the seal of this country, again, "e pluribus unum," is in many ways a recipe for the best ideology and the most powerful ideology to use against bin Laden and those who subscribe to his evil world view.

And so I encourage this organization and other like-minded organizations to continue to make sure that we deploy the most important weapon we have against the ideologues of terror. That is the spirit of America, the spirit of unity, and the respect within that spirit of unity for the great diversity which has made this country what it is.

Thank you very much.


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