The silence from Minnesota’s congressional delegation regarding a landmark announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is disappointing — and needs to be remedied.
On Friday, DHS released a list of 31 organizations across the nation — two of them in Minneapolis — that will receive the first community grants made by the agency to counter violent extremism at the local level. Outgoing DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and law-enforcement officials, including U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger, have long advocated these community-based programs as part of a comprehensive homeland security strategy. But it wasn’t until the fiscal 2016 appropriations that Congress finally designated money for the effort.
A 2016 Star Tribune editorial series called for more robust funding than the initial $10 million Congress approved. The programs include job training and after-school opportunities to build resilience in communities that have been targeted by terrorist recruiters.
Friday’s announcement should have been greeted with loud, public praise by all members of the state’s congressional delegation. The state is home to the nation’s largest Somali-American community, and this year nine young Somali-American men were convicted of conspiring with the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
While the $10 million is far from adequate, it is nevertheless a solid start in ensuring that all steps are being taken to strengthen security within our nation’s border and protect the vulnerable young people despicably targeted online and in person by Middle East recruiters. The announcement was also a chance to laud the Minnesota recipients of these grant dollars.
Ka Joog, which received $499,998, provides after-school educational activities in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Urban 4-H Youth Development department. It has won accolades from the FBI. The other Minnesota recipient, the Heartland Democracy center, is known for its work with radicalized young people, helping turn them away from a path of violence. Its grant totaled $165,435.
Increased funding in future years is critical so these programs can serve more people and communities. The lack of reaction from political leaders raises troubling questions about whether congressional support exists for doing so, particularly under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. It would have been helpful, too, to hear praise for these grants from Gov. Mark Dayton.
It is unclear whether Trump’s new Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, supports community-led programs to counter violent extremism (CVE). But criticism of current CVE policies as “politically correct” by Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, who chairs the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, raises doubts about future funding.
Prominent law enforcement officials, in contrast, strongly support CVE funding. The state’s representatives in the U.S. House and Senate ought to do the same. If Minnesotans don’t lead on this vital issue, who will?