Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tests positive for Covid-19

“Secretary Mayorkas tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after taking a test as part of routine pre-travel protocols,” Espinosa said in a statement. “Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice. Contact tracing is underway.”

Mayorkas had been scheduled to travel to Colombia this week along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but he is now working from home. While in Bogotá, Blinken was scheduled to co-lead a meeting among government officials to address migration issues with regional partners.
This is at least the second time Covid-19 has interrupted Mayorkas’ work schedule since taking office. In July, Mayorkas worked virtually after coming in close contact with a DHS employee who later tested positive for Covid-19. At the time, he had no symptoms and tested negative twice.
The secretary traveled to Mexico earlier this month and has participated in several in-person events in recent weeks. He attended an outdoor cybersecurity event last week and on Saturday, appeared at a Peace Officers Memorial Service where he stood outside alongside President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

A White House official told CNN that “no White House principal has been determined to be a close contact of Secretary Mayorkas, given that the most recent contact was at the outdoors FOP event outside of the 48-hour close contact window.”

The news of Mayorkas’ positive test comes weeks after Biden imposed stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in an attempt to contain the latest surge of Covid-19.
A key provision in the plan is directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week.
The President also signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out, as well as an accompanying order directing the same standard be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.

DHS is working to comply with Biden’s executive order by November 22, a DHS spokesperson previously told CNN.

The department developed an online tool for personnel to report their vaccination status, a system that is available to all DHS employees other than the US Secret Service and US Coast Guard, which have their own reporting systems.

Although, DHS declined to release department-wide interim vaccinate rate data, some of the agencies within the department have shared progress on workforce vaccinations.

As of Tuesday, 89.1% of the Coast Guard’s active duty workforce has been fully vaccinated, and 92.9% of the active duty workforce has been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to US Coast Guard media relations deputy LCDR Brittany Panetta.

Mayorkas and the department have also been heavily involved in the management of border travel needs and restrictions amid the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the administration announced plans to ease restrictions on cross-border travel for fully vaccinated visitors starting in early November, relaxing bans that have been in place for more than 18 months.

The new rules, which are similar to those announced for international air passengers, will be rolled out in a phased approach. The first phase, kicking off in early November, will allow fully vaccinated visitors traveling for non-essential reasons, like visiting friends or for tourism, to cross US land borders. The second phase, starting in early January 2022, will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travelers, whether traveling for essential or non-essential reasons.

“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of Covid-19 and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air,” a senior administration official previously told reporters.

This story has been updated with additional reporting Tuesday.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

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Homeland Security chief to travel to US Southern border as thousands crowd in makeshift camp

“I will be traveling to the border myself,” Mayorkas told CNN’s Jim Acosta, though he did not specify when. Mayorkas added that he’s in regular touch with the White House and that President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation “multiple times.”

Thousands of migrants — including families, pregnant women and babies — have crowded in a makeshift camp under the Del Rio International Bridge. They sleep in the dirt, surrounded by growing piles of garbage, exposed to the elements and without much food and water in hopes of being processed by the overwhelmed US Border Patrol, an aerial tour of the scene shows.

The encampment has raised additional public health concern because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and Mayorkas told CNN that the government is not vaccinating the migrants at this time.

As a result of the chaotic situation, the Del Rio processing center has temporarily closed and traffic is being rerouted to effectively manage resources and ensure the uninterrupted flow of trade and travel, US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said in a press conference Sunday.

There were more than 14,300 migrants — many of them Haitian — under the Del Rio International Bridge waiting to be processed by immigration authorities as of Saturday, according to Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio. That number swelled from roughly 400 just over a week ago in a mounting immigration crisis for the Biden administration.

“We certainly are experiencing a challenging situation, but we are surging resources and we have a multi-pronged approach to this,” Mayorkas said Sunday.

Mayorkas confirmed CNN’s reporting that the Department of Homeland Security is obtaining resources from the Defense Department for additional assistance in Del Rio. The Defense Department — which has previously supported DHS in securing the border — would provide logistics support, though it’s unclear when the request will be submitted. DHS is also receiving assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services. Mayorkas added that the American Red Cross and World Central Kitchen are helping provide supplies and meals.

DHS said in statement Saturday it’s preparing additional transportation to accelerate the pace and increase the capacity of removal flights to Haiti, as well as other destinations, within the next 72 hours. The agency also announced that Customs and Border Protection would surge 400 agents and officers to the Del Rio sector.

Border Patrol is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Coast Guard to move people from Del Rio to other processing locations, including around 2,000 Friday.

Authorities have been able to move approximately 3,300 individuals over the last two days, Ortiz said Sunday, adding that “our expectation is to have up to 3,000 migrants transferred out from underneath the bridge” within the next 24 hours.

“I will tell you, over the midnight hours, we did not have one crossing in this area, so that is certainly very optimistic and promising that it’s going to get us to a point where we can manage the population that is underneath the bridge at this point,” the border chief said.

When asked to explain why there has been a surge of Haitian migration into the Del Rio sector, Ortiz said, “Haitians and folks from Western Africa traditionally cross in the Del Rio sector area because they have known individuals previously who’ve crossed in this area…traditionally it’s because of word of mouth.”

Lozano — who tweeted earlier Sunday that he had updated Mayorkas on the “dire” situation in the area — said Sunday during a news conference that “word is quickly going to spread that Haitians are being sent back to home country” as repatriation flights pick up.

Many of the Haitians currently at the border are believed to have been living in South America after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, but the toll of the pandemic on the region fueled migration to the US southern border. Haiti is also still reeling from an earthquake in August that resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and thousands more injuries, as well as the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July. For those reasons, more than 50 Democratic lawmakers urged the Biden administration in a letter last week to halt deportations to the country.

Mayorkas said the US government has “studied the conditions in Haiti” and referenced his May announcement that the US would issue temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians who have resided in the country as of July 29, which was before the recent earthquake. “We are very mindful of the devastation that occurred as a result of the earthquake,” Mayorkas told CNN. He said his agency is working with the Haitian government and Department of State on the repatriation effort.

He continued: “We made it very, very clear that people arriving after (July 29) would in fact be repatriated. That is indeed what we are doing.”

Images from the Del Rio area show crowds of migrants at the camp while others wade across the Rio Grande near the bridge. Some carried young children across the knee-length water; others hauled their belongings in plastic bags or gallons of water. Tents fashioned from blankets and pieces of wood were erected. Clothes were laid out on the ground to dry under a searing sun.

CNN’s Rosa Flores, Priscilla Alvarez, Ray Sanchez and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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Homeland Security chief to travel to US Southern border as thousands crowd in makeshift camp – erienewsnow.com

Homeland Security chief to travel to US Southern border as thousands crowd in makeshift camp  erienewsnow.com

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U.S. Homeland Security Studying How to Track Travel of Suspected Domestic Extremists | Top News

By Mark Hosenball and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering expanding efforts to monitor possible domestic terrorism threats through surveillance of travel patterns of individuals, it said on Wednesday.

“Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today. DHS is committed to improving security and is reviewing options for enhancing screening and vetting protocols and travel pattern analyses, consistent with privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties,” a DHS spokesperson told Reuters.

Precise details were unclear for how the DHS is going to step up screening of domestic travelers for possible extremist ties or intentions. The Biden administration has emphasized in recent weeks the threat that homegrown, violent individuals, including white supremacists, present to the country.

Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers this month that domestic violent extremism is the “greatest threat” to the United States.

U.S. intelligence agencies also warned in a report https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/21_0301_odni_unclass-summary-of-dve-assessment-17_march-final_508.pdf that domestic violent extremists, or DVEs “motivated by a range of ideologies” pose an elevated threat in the United States in 2021, including “lone offenders,” who pose significant challenges, “because of their capacity for independent radicalizationto violence, ability to mobilize discretely, and access to firearms.”

Founded after the Sept. 11 attacks, the vast, 240,000 employee DHS is tasked with everything from immigration policy to airport security.

DHS’s moves, first reported by Politico, are likely to attract skepticism from the FBI, which is principally responsible for tracking and investigating domestic terrorism threats and cases, and from members of Congress and civil libertarians concerned about government spying.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department referred requests for comment to the FBI, which declined to comment.

Two sources familiar with Congressional scrutiny of intelligence agencies said that key Congressional oversight officials had not been informed of DHS’s plans to expand domestic counter-terrorism surveillance.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Ted Hesson; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Gregorio)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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TSA Federal Security Directors’ Top Tips for Safe and Secure Travel  – Homeland Security Today

Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Federal Security Directors have shared some tips for travelers as they arrive at airport security checkpoints to help them stay healthy and stay secure as they travel during the pandemic. 

Federal Security Directors are the top TSA officials at an airport or for multiple airports in a specific state and they know what best practices can help travelers prevent the spread of COVID-19 during their trip. 

Tip 1: Wash your hands.  

From John Bambury, Federal Security Director for John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Wash your hands often and bring your hand sanitizer and wipes with you. TSA is currently allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags until further notice. Since these containers exceed the standard 3.4-ounce allowance typically permitted through a checkpoint, they will need to be screened separately. This will add some time to the checkpoint screening experience. Please keep in mind that all other liquids, gels and aerosols brought to a checkpoint continue to be limited to 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters carried in a one quart-size bag. Bring your wipes along with you too. Travelers are permitted to bring individually-packaged alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on or checked luggage. Jumbo containers of hand wipes are also allowed in carry-on or checked luggage.

Tip 2: Wear a mask.

From Andrea R. Mishoe, Federal Security Director for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

TSA officers are wearing masks and we ask travelers to please wear one as well to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Travelers are allowed and encouraged to wear masks during the security screening process, however a TSA officer may ask the traveler to adjust the mask to visually confirm their identity during the travel document checking process or if their mask triggers an alarm during the screening process. If a traveler who is not wearing a mask triggers an alarm at a checkpoint and requires a pat down to resolve the alarm, TSA will offer that traveler a mask. Per CDC advice, masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is why masks are worn by TSA officers and why so many airports mandate the wearing of masks in their terminals.

Tip 3: Practice social distancing.

From Gerardo Spero, Federal Security Director for Philadelphia International Airport.

Maintain proper social distancing. Procedures to increase social distancing and reduce direct contact between TSA officers and the traveling public have been implemented whenever possible. Passengers can do their part by remembering to practice social distancing throughout their security experience—in the queue, through the screening process, while collecting their items from bins and after going through the checkpoint. TSA and airports have posted signs and floor decals to help remind travelers of the importance of doing so.

Tip 4: Remove items from pockets.

From Scott T. Johnson, Federal Security Director for Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International Airports.

As is common practice, travelers need to remove items from their pockets prior to going through a checkpoint scanner. During the pandemic it’s a good idea to place items from your pockets into your carry-on bag instead of into a bin. This reduces touchpoints, an important precaution to take during the pandemic.   

Tip 5: Put food items in clear plastic bags.

From John C. Allen, Federal Security Director for all airports in West Virginia.

If you plan to travel with food, it’s a best practice to pack your food items in a clear plastic bag and place that clear plastic bag into your carry-on bag. When you get to the checkpoint, remove the clear bag containing your food and place that bag into the bin to reduce the opportunity for cross-contamination. Why remove your food at all? Because food items often trigger an alarm, so instead of a TSA officer needing to open a carry-on bag to check on what triggered the alarm, removing the food reduces the likelihood of a carry-on bag needing to be searched.

Tip 6: Expired license is OK.

From John Bright, Federal Security Director for all airports in Iowa.

If you want to use your driver’s license as your government issued ID at an airport checkpoint and if your license expired, don’t panic. If your driver’s license or state-issued ID expired and you are unable to renew it at your state driver’s license agency, you can still use it as acceptable identification at the checkpoint. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID one year after expiration, although some additional ID may be required along with additional screening. When getting your license renewed, please consider getting a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. The new deadline for enforcement of REAL ID is October 1, 2021.

Tip 7: Pack smart.

From Chuck Burke, Federal Security Director for Richmond International Airport and all Virginia airports south of Richmond.

One of the most important things passengers can do to reduce contact at a checkpoint is to pack smart. It’s important to remember that prohibited items are still, well, prohibited. Travelers need to know what is in their carry-on bags and make sure there are no prohibited items inside before arriving at the checkpoint. If not, and their carry-on item triggers an alarm, passengers may be directed to exit the checkpoint, remove the prohibited item and return to the start of the checkpoint to rerun their bag through the X-ray machine.

Tip 8: Enroll in TSA PreCheck™.

From Thomas Carter, Federal Security Director for all airports in New Jersey.

Enroll in TSA PreCheck™. TSA PreCheck™ members continue to be eligible for expedited screening procedures, meaning they do not have to remove their shoes, belts or light jackets. They can also leave their laptops, other electronics, 3-1-1 bags or food items in their carry-on bags, thus reducing touchpoints along the way. During the pandemic, now more than ever, TSA PreCheck™ is worth the investment.

Tip 9: Prepare before you arrive.

From Karen Keys-Turner, Federal Security Director for all airports in Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia.

TSA has a special coronavirus page on its web site that is helpful to review before heading to the airport. While you’re online, download the free myTSA app to your cell phone. It provides 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information on any mobile device. Doing so can save you time and money with helpful tips for security, including a searchable database of items that can and can’t go in checked or carry-on bags.

Tip 10: Everything is cleaner.

From Michael Fowler, Federal Security Director for all airports in Nebraska.

TSA has issued guidance to frontline employees to conduct routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and security screening equipment at the TSA checkpoint. Many airport authorities are also performing additional cleaning of security checkpoints and bins. Passengers who are hesitant to place their items into a bin out of concern for cross contamination can consider bringing along a plastic kitchen trash bag to place in the bottom of the bin to use as a liner before divesting their belongings on top of it.

Tip 11: Scan your boarding pass.

From Robert Duffy, Federal Security Director for LaGuardia Airport.

We’re looking to reduce touchpoints along the way, so now we invite passengers to scan their own boarding pass—paper or electronic—then hold it up to the TSA officer to visually inspect it. Doing so reduces a touch-point. 

Tip 12: Follow expert guidance.

From Bart R. Johnson, Federal Security Director for all Upstate New York airports.

Travelers are reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel guidance as well as local and state advisories regarding COVID-19. This is fairly simple. If you recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, are not feeling well, have recently been exposed to a person with COVID-19 or are running a fever, please postpone your trip and rebook your flight for another time when you are feeling healthy. Many airlines have eliminated rebooking fees, making it much more convenient to ensure you can travel when you are healthy. When you’re feeling better, we’ll be happy to see you. We want you to stay healthy and stay secure.

Read the tips at TSA

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