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Reforming the Department of Homeland Security

Overview

Established in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency and exercises sweeping powers over U.S. civilians. But DHS has been a salient example of the myriad ways managing a sprawling bureaucracy with an insufficient oversight structure can go wrong. The resulting weaknesses not only risk undermining its ability to carry out its mission, but also pose a threat to U.S. democracy itself.

This threat is illustrated by the Department’s proclivity for anti-democratic conduct—including by illegally designated leadership. For example, the Department’s authority has been used to institute a cruel and politically-motivated family separation policy, deploy federal agents in response to largely peaceful protests, unlawfully surveil critics of the Trump administration, and issue false statements to Congress and the public regarding alleged violence by left-wing groups. 

But it could be worse. In the hands of a determined and deeply authoritarian-minded president, DHS could be deployed more extensively to quash dissent and punish vulnerable populations—or even used to interfere in an election—to help him or her illegitimately grab power.

To combat this threat, Protect Democracy is working to both erect new institutional guardrails at DHS and directly pursue accountability for past misconduct via strategic litigation. Read more about our efforts below.

Douša v. DHS

Don’t Shoot Portland v. Wolf

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