Homeland Security Task Force Southeast along with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) are wrapping up a four-day exercise to prepare for a humanitarian crisis that would come with a mass migration scenario by way of the Caribbean.
HSTFSE was established by the Homeland Security secretary in 2003 to “enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents by establishing a single, comprehensive national incident management system… designed to cover the prevention, preparation, response, and recovery from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.”
The coalition of agencies, including the Coast Guard, is tasked with unifying operations to spot, interdict and repatriate migrants attempting to come to U.S. shores by boat. The task force also undertakes efforts to dissuade migrants from trying to make the perilous sea journey, and rescues migrants in peril.
“Homeland Security Task Force Southeast is unique in that it is what is called a standing task force, meaning elements of the organization work together nearly daily to maintain a level of awareness that would facilitate the rapid activation of the mass migration plan,” noted Coast Guard public affairs. “For example, a committee of the task force monitors a variety of sources of intelligence to look for indications mass migration may be starting.”
SOUTHCOM’s annual interagency exercise, Integrated Advance, began Monday with federal, state and local partners in support of DHS’ Operation Vigilant Sentry. The training focused “on preparing for a maritime mass migration in the Caribbean, but is unrelated to any specific real-world event,” SOUTHCOM stressed.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Peter Brown, commander of Coast Guard 7th District and director of the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast, said the mass migration event represented in the training scenario is “a large-scale, complex challenge that requires a coordinated government response from federal, state, and local agencies.”
“As we have unfortunately seen recently, illegal maritime migration can often lead to tragedy, such as the recent loss of more than 40 Haitian migrants at sea in three separate events,” Brown said. “This mission is as much a humanitarian response as it is a border security mission and it is our responsibility to do everything we can do to train, integrate with, and support partner agencies in preparing for and responding to this potential crisis.”
After intercepting 25 Dominican migrants off Puerto Rico’s Mona Island in February, the Coast Guard said that, in conjunction with Puerto Rican enforcement partners, more than 400 than migrants and “several” narcotics smuggling attempts had been interdicted since last October.
“The migrants were attempting to make the transit across an ocean passage in a vessel that was inherently unsafe due to overloading, missing all required safety equipment, and operating without navigation lights,” Lt. John Schulz, cutter Joseph Napier commanding officer, said then. “Many lives are lost each year by these types of ventures, and are a direct threat to the people who attempt the voyage. Each person saved is a testament to how critical the Coast Guard and our partner agencies efforts are to ensuring that there is not an unnecessary loss of life in the waters surrounding Puerto Rico.”