MIAMI — Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast held a three-day exercise, Monday through Wednesday, at U.S. Southern Command in Doral, to discuss, review and validate plans, procedures and capabilities, to maximize readiness to respond to a mass migration event within U.S. maritime approaches and throughout the Caribbean.
In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security established Homeland Security Task Force Southeast (HSTF-SE), composed of Coast Guard, the Departments of Defense, State, Health and Human Services, and state and local agencies, for the purpose of responding to a Caribbean mass migration event. HSTF-SE provides the organizational framework to detect a mass migration, monitors migration trends, and conducts joint training, exercises and planning.
“This three-day planned exercise provided all of the participating agencies an opportunity to review and discuss vital operational plans and capabilities needed to respond to a mass maritime migration event,” said Rear Adm. Brendan C. McPherson, Director, Homeland Security Task Force-Southeast, and Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District. “Our highest priority is to prevent the tragic loss of life at sea. We exercise these plans frequently to ensure we remain always ready.”
Operation Vigilant Sentry (OVS) is HSTF-SE’s comprehensive, integrated, National operational plan for a rapid, effective, and unified response of Federal, state, and local capabilities in response to indicators and/or warnings of a mass migration in the Caribbean. OVS describes the basic organization and structure by which HSTF-SE will deploy resources and coordinate multi-agency operations to address a potential or full-scale mass migration event.
OVS provides guidance for four broad mass migration activities: (1) deterrence and dissuasion, (2) at-sea rescue and interdiction operations in response to a mass migration, (3) necessary and appropriate law enforcement operations and migrant processing, and (4) protection screening and housing or custody procedures.
The primary objectives of OVS are to protect the safety of life at sea, and to deter and dissuade mass migration using DHS forces, reinforced by other required federal, state, and local assets and capabilities. Migrants interdicted at-sea will be repatriated to their country of origin consistent with U.S. law, policies, and international treaty obligations. If repatriation is not an option, precluded by the results of a protection screening, migrants from those countries would be given appropriate processing outside the United States.