By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN on Monday his department is working closely with local authorities in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, over the weekend, but noted DHS is not in a position of monitoring every American.
Asked if DHS should have caught the 180-page racist screed posted online and attributed to the suspected gunman, Mayorkas said: “No, because are we monitoring every expression of hate on the internet and social media? That would be virtually impossible.”
Instead, Mayorkas argued the question is whether an individual who has been encountered by the mental health system should be able to purchase guns. State police had previously taken in the 18-year-old suspect — who allegedly shot and killed 10 people on Saturday — for a mental health evaluation following a “generalized threat” while he attended Susquehanna Valley Central High School, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said over the weekend.
“We have to equip people in communities to identify signs of mental health issues and especially if those signs are coupled with expressions of intent or interest in committing acts of violence,” Mayorkas said.
The Department of Homeland Security has participated in calls with the Justice Department and the broader law enforcement community in the wake of the Buffalo attack. “What law enforcement wants to see from us is as real-time, actionable information as we can provide with respect to the threat landscape. What do we know?” the secretary told CNN.
“We have a vantage point that a local law enforcement agency would not have. We understand the national picture,” he added. “They want us to push that information out as quickly as possible and provide as fulsome of information set as we can.”
Mayorkas told CNN earlier Monday that the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, but declined to call it a domestic terrorist attack. “With respect to the tragic events of this past Saturday, it is being investigated, as the FBI articulated, as a hate crime,” Mayorkas told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond. “The term domestic terrorism is a legal term, and because the investigation is ongoing, I won’t — I won’t employ that term.”
Federal prosecutors are working to bring charges against the shooting suspect, law enforcement officials said. Those charges are expected in the coming days, and would be in addition to state charges. The suspect was charged with first-degree murder Saturday. He has pleaded not guilty.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Saturday said the Justice Department was investigating the attack as a “hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.”
‘Heightened threat’ environment
DHS has been warning for more than a year that people will use political ideologies to justify acts of violence.
In February, for example, DHS warned in a national bulletin that the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation is fueling the “heightened threat” environment in the US.
The National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin is the principal way DHS informs the public about any changes to the terrorism landscape in the US.
The February terrorism bulletin was in part a response to events, including a hostage attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and threats directed at historically Black colleges and universities.
The primary terrorism threat to the US continues to be from lone offenders or small groups who are motivated by a range of foreign and domestic grievances “often cultivated through the consumption of certain online content,” the bulletin said at the time.
“There are different authorities in different parts of the government and what we are able to do is leverage research conducted by organizations and institutions to identify trends,” Mayorkas told CNN. “We communicate the trends to local law enforcement, to social service organizations, to communities. That’s what we do.”
Title 42 remains uncertain
Mayorkas’ remarks on the Buffalo shooting Monday evening came as he traveled to the Texas-Mexico border amid uncertainty over the future of a Trump-era pandemic restriction, known as Title 42. The public health authority, which allows officials to turn migrants away at the US-Mexico border, is set to end on May 23 but an ongoing lawsuit may thwart those plans.
The department has been actively preparing for a potential surge in migrants when the authority lifts. Those plans also require coordination with partners to the south.
“It has to involve countries to the south of our border. It cannot be the United States alone at its border. It has to involve a regional solution to what is a regional challenge,” Mayorkas said.
DHS is working to strike migration agreements with “many” countries, though those arrangements might vary by country. The US has already struck agreements with Costa Rica and Panama.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, has fiercely criticized the administration over its handling of the border, launching his own operation along the state’s shared border with Mexico and busing migrants released from custody to Washington, DC. Abbott is among a slew of Republican governors who have pushed back on the administration’s immigration policies.
Asked whether DHS can collaborate with GOP governors amid the pushback, Mayorkas told CNN, “We have collaborated with state and local leaders of both parties. It is unhelpful when actions are taken outside of a collaborative environment.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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