Members of the Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Officers Association (MELOA), a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognized employee association, kicked off their inaugural diversity training conference Aug. 10 in Dearborn, Michigan. MELOA is comprised of law enforcement officers from various DHS components and members of the community, focusing on creating positive interactions between law enforcement and the Arab-American community through outreach and sustained engagement.
Steve Francis, ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Detroit deputy special agent in charge, founded MELOA, which is open to all DHS personnel regardless of ethnicity and includes representatives from HSI, ICE's Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Border Patrol. Francis was unanimously elected last spring as the president of MELOA.
The group has led several community-based initiatives in its short 18-month existence, including clothing drives and volunteering at community food banks. According to MELOA's mission statement, efforts like these create trust within Middle-Eastern communities and counters the artificial allure of violent extremism, a theme that was stressed at the two-day event.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson delivered the keynote speech at the conference, highlighting how the organization’s grassroots efforts align seamlessly with his community trust platform, promoted through the department’s Office for Community Partnerships.
Secretary Johnson opened his remarks to the group of nearly 200 by recalling his January visit to the region and the remarkable growth of the organization in the intervening months. As he did in January, Secretary Johnson emphasized the department’s commitment to community engagement and said he was optimistic about its future.
“It has been proven, time and again, that a law enforcement community, a police force, a law enforcement organization that looks like the community that they serve builds trust,” said Secretary Johnson. “When I look around this room at all the people who work for DHS, I have tremendous optimism for our future.”
Accompanying the secretary at the two-day event were U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who similarly pledged their support to the organization and emphasized their respective agency’s emphasis on community engagement.
“It is compelling to see DHS employees on the ground identify and respond to a specific need in their community by taking the initiative to fill a gap,” said Director Saldaña.
“The positive and collaborative relationships MELOA has built here in Dearborn affirm the mutual respect between law enforcement and citizens so urgently needed throughout the country.”
Senior leadership from each department component represented at the event lauded MELOA's first annual diversity training conference as an overwhelming success and pledged their continued support to MELOA's objectives.
Secretary Johnson commended MELOA for its efforts thus far and noted that its continued expansion could provide a model throughout the country for community-police relations. For more information about the group, visit the MELOA website.