Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, has had a standing invitation for months from the Star Tribune Editorial Board to visit Minnesota and see firsthand the hard work underway here to thwart terror recruiters. Regrettably, it’s becoming increasingly clear that if and when McCaul arrives, he would also witness how rash policymaking in Washington, D.C., can threaten to undo hard-won local progress on this security front.
Minnesota, of course, has a critical stake in getting this right because it is home to one of the nation’s largest Somali-American communities. These new Minnesotans have been targeted by recruiters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The decision made earlier this year by Minnesota’s respected Ka Joog program should have served notice to national leaders of the need to move with caution. Ka Joog is a textbook example of the programs experts recommend. It is led by Somali-Americans and provides after-school educational programs. It has won a national award from the FBI.
This year, Ka Joog’s leaders turned down a $500,000 federal grant that would have allowed it to serve more kids and parents. Among the reasons: the bungled Trump travel ban and the push to rename “countering extremism” programs as “countering radical Islam” programs. Ka Joog’s leaders worried they’d lose their community’s trust by taking funding from a government seeming to target it.
Another significant setback came from the Trump administration’s recent request for the resignations of 46 U.S. Attorneys. Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger was, unfortunately, among them.
Luger set the bar high during his tenure, aggressively prosecuting drug and sex traffickers. He played a critical role in bringing Jacob Wetterling’s killer to justice. He also won national respect for his work on countering extremism. Luger prosecuted would-be terrorists, but he also emphasized a preventive approach, pushing for private and public support for programs like Ka Joog to help kids flourish in their new homeland.
This work in Minnesota can and must continue without Luger. But it would be far more effective to have Luger renominated for this office — which is why U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar merits praise for her rapid push to make this happen.
Countering extremism is a relatively new field, resulting in trial and error. Luger’s understanding of what works and what doesn’t is an important reason to have him back at the helm. “You don’t want to lose the institutional knowledge and momentum that has been built up to the benefit of the … greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
It is rare to have a U.S. attorney renominated in a new administration, but there is precedent. Get Luger back on the job as soon as possible.