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June 04, 2019

Homeland Security’s top lawyer details department milestones

The 2,500 lawyers who serve at its headquarters and operational components of the Department of Homeland Security General Counsel’s office are working to safeguard the American people, our homeland and our values, said DHS General Counsel John Mitnick, at the 13th Annual ABA Homeland Security Law Institute on May 31 in Arlington, Va.

Department of Homeland Security General Counsel John Mitnick address the ABA Homeland Security Law Institute in Arlington.

Department of Homeland Security General Counsel John Mitnick address the ABA Homeland Security Law Institute in Arlington.

Mitnick is the fifth general counsel of DHS, confirmed in February 2018. This is his second stint at DHS, having served in November 2002 as an attorney in the Transition Planning Office during the creation of the agency. 

“I’m happy to report that DHS has made great strides” since then, Mitnick said. He cited recent achievements in new authorities to regulate unmanned aircraft systems (drones), which are used for recreation and to support aid efforts but also can be used for malicious purposes by terrorists, criminal organizations, and lone actors with specific objectives such as drug smugglers. The Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 authorizes DHS  and the Department of Justice to disrupt control of the such drones by intercepting or interfering with their electronic communications and to use reasonable force to disable or destroy them.

Mitnick also highlighted the creation of the general counsel’s office for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, formerly known as the National Protection and Programs Directorate. “This was a very positive development for the department,” he said.  

In the area of immigration, Mitnick said a significant increase in families crossing the southern border has presented a tremendous challenge for border patrol agents.  “Obviously children and families require care and attention beyond what single adults require,” Mitnick said. He pointed to the establishment of Migrant Protection Protocols program, which enables DHS to return migrants to Mexico to await immigration proceedings.

 Mitnick spoke briefly about the recent suspension of flights between the U.S. and Venezuela, which is in the throes of civil collapse, as an example of cooperation between federal agencies. The Transportation Security Administration was no longer able to ensure flight safety so DHS attorneys worked with TSA lawyers to resolve some “thorny” legal issues to accomplish that effort. “It’s another example of how we work together internally and how we work with other agencies.”

The annual Homeland Security Law Institute is sponsored by the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.