DEARBORN — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stopped at the University’s Dearborn campus Wednesday as part of a nationwide tour emphasizing the importance of combating prejudices against the Muslim community and taking action in response to terrorism.
The tour was part of the “If You See Something Say Something” campaign, which aims to raise public awareness of possible indicators of terrorism and, increase understanding of when and how to report suspicious activity to the proper authorities.
Speaking to combatting terrorism, Johnson highlighted the importance of developing a strong and positive relationship between various communities, specifically in order to avoid isolating the Muslim community.
“Part of my message is, now more than ever given the nature of what we see, it is critical that we build bridges to Muslim communities around this country,” he said. “The answer cannot be to vilify the Muslim Americans in this country.”
Over 40 percent of Dearborn’s population is Muslim, and hundreds of U-M Dearborn students gathered to hear Johnson speak Wednesday. Student leaders also met with Johnson prior to the event.
He noted that combatting terrorism remained a core focus of DHS — the department was initially formed after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York to increase coordination and national security.
Johnson also discussed undocumented immigrants, saying the Obama administration believed a solution to the large influx of immigrants from Central America can be found by approaching immigration as a refugee issue.
“Immigration is probably the most emotional subject I have dealt with as a public servant,” he said. “We in our administration regard the problem of families fleeing Central America essentially as a refugees problem. We want to bring a refugee solution to the problem of illegal immigration from Central America.”
Additionally, he touched on initiatives geared toward large universities, including grant building opportunities and a student competition, which began last semester.
The competition allows students to create a campaign to curb Islamic terrorist messages to young people and encourages students to consider working in public service. He is currently working with universities to allow students to get credit for participation in the competition.
“I want to encourage the students here in particular to consider a career serving your country,” he said. “It’s a wonderful profession, and we need smart young people in public service. We need a diverse array of smart, young people to bring to public service diverse experiences and backgrounds.”
U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D–Detroit) and Debbie Dingell (D–Dearborn) helped organize and attended both the talk and a roundtable discussion between student leaders and Johnson prior to his speech.
Following the speech, Conyers and Dingell both expressed their gratitude toward Johnson for his visit. Conyers said he had never heard these specific issues addressed so well before.
“This has been a great experience,” he said. “We have been friends for a very long time, but I’ve never heard the issues examined so thoughtfully and interestingly in terms of how to get liberty and security working together and complementing each other.”
Dingell said she appreciated that Johnson elected to visit Dearborn immediately following the State of the Union address as it solidifies the message of unity President Barack Obama delivered in his address.
“This is my home and I am proud to live here, and I’ve been very concerned over the past few months that we are letting fear cause hatred and division,” she said. “President Obama had a strong message last night. Let us hear that message.”