safety first

Torres says DHS needs to prioritize fighting white supremacist terror

The recently chosen vice chair of the Homeland Security Committee urges a ‘fundamental reordering’ of the agency’s priorities

Richard Drew/AP

Former New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres, left, speaks at a news conference in New York in 2018.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) faces a mountain of complex issues to tackle as the new vice chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. He’ll have to contend with an emboldened right-wing extremist movement in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, a massive Russian hacking attack against the U.S. government and President Joe Biden’s efforts to roll back his predecessor’s far-reaching changes to the U.S. immigration system.

“My role as vice chair of Homeland Security comes at a critical time,” Torres, who represents the South Bronx, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “The committee oversees the Department of Homeland Security, which is the third largest department in the federal government. It covers a range of agencies and issues.”

As he takes his new post , Torres sees domestic white supremacist terrorism as one of the most urgent challenges.

“Americans have long been in denial about white supremacist violence as a form of domestic terrorism,” the freshman New York congressman said. “The insurrection against the Capitol was a wake-up call for the nation.”

Torres said that the Department of Homeland Security needs “a fundamental reordering of priorities” and alleged that the department has been “preoccupied” with immigration and radical Islamist terrorist violence under President Donald Trump’s administration.

Torres is undecided on whether the U.S. needs a separate domestic terrorism statute, though he indicated he was skeptical of such a proposal.

“A powerful case could be made that the federal government has sufficient tools to combat white supremacist terrorists,” he explained. “It’s simply a question of enforcement. It’s simply a question of using those tools.”

Torres described himself as a “strong supporter” of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which has been a key tool for Jewish community institutions. He plans to push for another increase in NSGP funding during this year’s appropriations cycle.

“We have to see to it that vulnerable communities have the tools to protect themselves from terror threats here at home,” he explained.

As a member of the New York City Council, Torres successfully advocated  for a law codifying the New York City Office of Cyber Command. He is hopeful that the legislation can serve as a “model for localities and states across the country.”

“It is our greatest vulnerability, and therefore it should be our highest priority,” Torres continued.

Hailing from a district with a large immigrant population, Torres said immigration reform is also a high priority for him, decrying continued deportations under the Biden administration, despite Biden’s attempts to pause them. Torres predicted that, with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s confirmation earlier this week, the agency is likely to shift its priorities.

“The confirmation of the DHS secretary is a game changer,” said the congressman, who represents the poorest congressional district in the nation. “Now that the secretary has been confirmed, he’s going to be in a position to rein in the excesses of the agency.”