Donald Trump spent some of his last hours on the campaign trail in Minnesota, holding an airport rally just two days before the election. As thousands cheered him, the billionaire reality TV star harshly spotlighted a critical challenge this state faces: the recruitment of young Somali-Americans by terrorist organizations.
Trump’s remarks that Minnesota has “suffered enough” because of its Somali-American community rightly drew broad condemnation. Thousands of these new Minnesotans — the nation’s largest concentration of Somali-Americans — are entrepreneurs, students, promising political leaders and good neighbors working for a brighter future. That this community’s young people are considered prey by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a tragedy that should not result in sweeping judgment of all Somalis.
What the criticism of Trump’s inflammatory remarks missed was a serious error of omission. The man who is now president-elect failed to note that Minnesota is also at the leading edge of innovative efforts to prevent terrorist recruiting. These efforts, which are often referred to as Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, take a preventive-medicine approach to thwart recruiting by helping these new Americans put down roots in their new homeland. It is imperative that the CVE mission move forward and grow under President Trump.
It’s too soon to determine CVE’s fate in the new administration, though the sentencing last week of nine ISIL recruits from Minnesota should spur the state’s congressional delegation to publicly press the case for CVE. Whomever Trump appoints in the next few weeks as the new Department of Homeland Security head must champion CVE efforts or the program will wither, a development with troubling consequences for national security. Antiterrorism efforts must include many strategies, not just rely on stopping terrorists at the airport.
The Obama administration began building the CVE program, but the work is far from finished. The new Trump administration has a chance to turn its rhetoric on national security into a reality by making CVE a priority and securing improved funding. A Star Tribune editorial series has repeatedly criticized the paltry $10 million a year in appropriations for youth program grants. These are a CVE cornerstone. In the Twin Cities, these grants have helped support efforts to get young people off social media and into academic and athletic activities.
This holistic approach to countering terrorism is supported by many in law enforcement. The current CVE approach also encourages local leaders to take the lead in tailoring community programs. That’s preferable to a top-down federal approach and also fits with the local-control philosophy that many Republicans embrace.
Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents many Somali-Americans, merits praise for working with U.S. Attorney Andy Luger to ensure that all Minnesotans feel safe. Emmer, who endorsed Trump, is positioned to lead on CVE. He should join forces with Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, a strong CVE supporter who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, to forge bipartisan support to strengthen these important efforts.