Gyrocopter Lands on Capitol Lawn, Sparks Security Concerns
On Wednesday afternoon, Doug Hughes, a Florida postal worker, flew a small gyrocopter through protected Washington airspace and landed on the west lawn of the Capitol. Hughes reportedly planned to deliver letters on campaign finance reform addressed to each of the 535 Members of Congress. He also timed email blasts and release of a website to coincide with his flight. Hughes, 61, was charged with violating restricted airspace and operating an unregistered aircraft.
The stunt caused the U.S. Capitol to be shut down temporarily as a security measure – reports indicate Hughes literally flew under the radar through Washington DC only several hundred feet above the ground. Lawmakers pledged to investigate the incident, while Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson cautioned it was too soon to conclude what changes to Washington’s restricted airspace may be necessary. Several legislators were concerned to learn the Hughes had been questioned by Secret Service in 2013.
The incident highlights the challenges posed by small aircraft, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, only weeks after a quadcopter, a small drone, was flown onto the White House lawn. Both incidents have caused Capital Area officials to discuss completely revamping security in the Nation’s Capital as a result.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Wednesday, April 22: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency will hold a hearing titled “Acquisition Oversight: How Effectively Is DHS [Department of Homeland Security] Safeguarding Taxpayer Dollars?”
- Wednesday, April 22: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications will hold a hearing titled “Strategic Perspectives on the Bioterrorism Threat.”
- Wednesday, April 22: The Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a budget hearing with Mr. W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Wednesday, April 22: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Securing the Border: Understanding Threats and Strategies for the Northern Border.”
- Thursday, April 23: The House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a budget hearing with Mr. R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
- Thursday, April 23: The House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a budget hearing with Mr. W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Thursday, April 23: The Senate Judiciary Immigration and National Interest Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Eroding the Law and Diverting Taxpayer Resources: An Examination of the Administration’s Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program.”
Executive Branch Activity
Fifth Circuit Panel Hears Arguments on Immigration Issues
On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in a motion from the federal government to lift an injunction blocking implementation of the President’s executive actions on immigration. Texas federal Judge Andrew Hanen originally blocked the programs in February in a case brought by 26 states challenging the President’s unilateral actions.
The injunction halts the creation of a new deferred deportation program announced by the President last November for parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. It also calls on DHS to stop expansion of the Obama Administration’s 2012 program deferring deportation for certain immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Attorneys for the federal government are seeking an emergency stay lifting the injunction.
The federal government argued that the states have no standing to challenge the downstream impacts of the President’s policies. In response, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that these actions would amount to one of the largest immigration changes in U.S. history, and the states have standing through the costs incurred issuing drivers’ licenses and providing education and health care. The Fifth Circuit panel considering the case includes two judges selected by Republican presidents and one appointed by President Obama; based on the questioning in Friday’s hearing, experts believe the panel could rule 2-1 in favor of the states.
If the Fifth Circuit denies the stay and keeps the injunction intact, the Obama Administration could quickly seek Supreme Court review of the decision, all while the underlying case on the legal merits of the proposed immigration programs works its way separately through the federal courts.