DHS Secretary Mayorkas guts Homeland Security Advisory Council

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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has fired dozens of members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council as part of the effort to “reconstitute” the panel, according to a letter obtained by CBS News.

The letter, first reported by Politico, tells members that he has “ended the term of current HSAC members effective March 26, 2021,” in order to facilitate “an orderly transition to a new model” for the panel.

“I am considering how the HSAC can bring the greatest value to the Department and how the expertise, judgment, and counsel of its members can be harnessed most effectively to advance the Department’s mission,” Mayorkas wrote. “I expect to work closely with the HSAC and to rely on its Members to help guide the Department through a period of change.”

He thanked the members of the council for their service, and said he would “reconstitute the HSAC in the next few weeks, once the new model has been developed.”

Some members, however, will remain. William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner, and Karen Tandy, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, will keep their current positions as chair and vice chair of HSAC. Additionally, William Webster, former FBI and CIA director who Mayorkas says he was “privileged” to work in his letter, will continue in his position as chair emeritus.

More than 30 unpaid members previously sat on the council, made up of leaders appointed by both Democrat and Republican DHS secretaries of old who served in an advisory capacity. But now, the HSAC website has been updated accordingly and currently displays only three biographies on its page. 

Former members of the council included former acting DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, former NSA director Keith Alexander, former D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier, former high-profile FBI agent Ali Soufan and former ICE acting director Tom Homan. 

DHS did not immediately respond to request for comment.

On Thursday, former Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf criticized the move by Mayorkas, tweeting, “While I respect the right for a DHS Secretary to alter the HSAC to address their needs, dismissing the entire council outright and stopping a lot of important work (that was underway) is not the right approach.”

Congressman John Katko, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, also criticized the decision, calling the HSAC “a critical body of expert, bipartisan thought-leaders, with the significant responsibility of providing strategic and actionable counsel to top DHS leaders on a range of homeland security issues.”

“While these members serve at the pleasure of the Secretary, today’s action sends the message that this Administration has no intention of upholding a bipartisan, unifying approach to securing our homeland,” Katko said in a statement. “It’s an absolute shame that Secretary Mayorkas has removed these well-respected homeland security leaders who have dedicated their careers to strengthening our homeland security posture.”

Mayorkas’ decision comes as the Biden administration has come under scrutiny for its handling of the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border. While President Biden has said all migrant families should be rapidly expelled from U.S. soil under a Trump-era public health order, the policy is currently being enforced inconsistently across the southern border, frustrating both immigrant advocates and government officials.

There were approximately 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. federal custody as of Friday morning, according to government figures. Nearly 5,500 were being held in Border Patrol facilities, some of which are overcrowded, and 12,500 were being housed in Health and Human Services shelters and influx sites.

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