Jeh Johnson, former President Barack Obama’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told CNN late last week that the Biden administration needs to get control of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“If you go to any border congressional district, Lorado, Texas, for example, which is 85 percent Mexican-American, 80 percent or so Democratic, they’ll tell you that we should be fair and humane to migrants,” Johnson said. “But they also want us to control our borders. We have to get control of our borders. And 200,000 a month is a lot of people. DHS just released the numbers for August. It’s 200,000. August is typically a month where it’s very low.”
Johnson said that the Biden administration needed to be stronger in a “sustained engagement” on the issue, which he said they would need to do “over and over and over again.”
Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson: “We have to get control of our borders.” pic.twitter.com/NIKPwN2eup
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 19, 2021
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CNN:
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Wow. Thank you so much for giving us a sense of what is happening there. Michael Roa, appreciate it. We’ll let you get to reporting. And that just shows you that this surge has not stopped. Joining us now is Jeh Johnson. He served as Homeland Security secretary under President Obama. Secretary Johnson, it’s always a pressure to have you and your insight and expertise on these matters. The congressman who represents this district is calling this a humanitarian crisis on steroids. What do you call this?
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Ana, this was — I owned this issue for three years as secretary of Homeland Security. This was by far the most intractable, difficult issue I ever worked on in public life. If you go to any border congressional district, Lorado, Texas, for example, which is 85 percent Mexican-American, 80 percent or so Democratic, they’ll tell you that we should be fair and humane to migrants. We should support DACA. We should support the DACA population. We should give people an opportunity for a path to citizenship if they’ve been in this country for years. But they also want us to control our borders. We have to get control of our borders. And 200,000 a month is a lot of people. DHS just released the numbers for August. It’s 200,000. August is typically a month where it’s very low. And those kinds of numbers and the images you just showed your audience saps the ability. It overwhelms the ability of DHS, the Border Patrol, ICE to cope with the incoming. It saps the communities on the border. It saps Catholic Charities that are there doing their best to clothe and feed the migrants. And so — and the recent decision of the U.S. district court in Washington that DHS and HHS can no longer invoke the public health exception to send people back to Mexico only complicates matters. We have to do something to enhance enforcement. Longer term, we’ve got to deal with the situation in Central America. As you and I have discussed previously.
CABRERA: Let’s break it down. Obviously, there’s an issue at hand that has to be dealt with. Right? We’re seeing the surge continues. We’re seeing people continue to cross as we speak into this sort of holding area under that bridge in Del Rio, Texas. The last check we had, the numbers were 12,500, according to the mayor. And we see more people going as we speak. So this crisis continues to worsen. And it’s continued to worsen since President Biden took office. You pointed out 200,000 encounters just last month alone. Typically, border crossings go down in the summer months. Not the case this year. What immediate action needs to happen right now? What action could President Biden’s secretary, Mayorkas, take?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, the numbers like that are not necessarily Republican or Democratic numbers. They’re not necessarily partisan numbers. In President Trump’s third year of office, there were I think almost a million apprehensions on our southern border. Far larger than anything we saw in the Obama administration. The people there now ultimately will be processed and released into the interior of the United States simply because DHS, ICE, does not have the capability to hold all those people. But at some point along the way, we do need to send a strong message to the places where they’re coming from that there’s a right way and a wrong way to come to the United States. This is the wrong way. And if you come here, you will be turned back. There are a number of people who are being sent back. When I was in office, I used to literally go to Central America, greet the incoming airplanes that were bringing people back, bring the cameras so that people in those areas could see that we were actually sending people back. And messages like that can make a difference.
CABRERA: Both the vice president and DHS secretary have said publicly, do not come. That’s had little effect. Has this administration done enough to deter people from coming?
JOHNSON: I learned in Washington sometimes you have to say things 18 times before anybody listens. And it’s a message that has to continue to be repeated. Consistent with our values. We are a nation of immigrants. We should treat people fairly once they are here. We should give them an opportunity to make a claim for asylum. We should give people who have been here for years an opportunity to get on a path to citizenship. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to come here. What I said about border districts, I believe, is consistent with the views of the American people at large. They want us to be fair to these people who are desperate. But they want control of our borders as well. And we simply have to grapple with this situation. I know it’s difficult. But it can be done.
CABRERA: Vice President Harris was supposed to be taking point on this issue from the White House. What’s your assessment of how these handled this? I know you worked hand in hand with the-Vice President Biden, now president. At the time, he was vice president. He was on point. He assigned that to his vice president. How should she handle this?
JOHNSON: As I understand it, the vice president has been tasked with the diplomatic aspect of this, dealing with Central America, and that requires a sustained engagement by whoever is responsible for this. You’re correct. Vice president — then-Vice President Biden took a great interest in Central America. I personally traveled with him to Central America. I personally met with the presidents in that region alongside Vice President Biden. It takes a sustained engagement over and over and over again. And so that would be my candid advice to anyone in the administration who’s trying to grapple with this very, very difficult problem.
CABRERA: Just this week, two senior DHS officials announced their resignations. And one administration official tells CNN there’s this sense of tiredness. And that when it comes to the decision-making process, quote, “They are paralyzed by the bureaucracy.” I know these are complex issues. But has leadership failed here?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, the turnover is nothing like what we saw in the Trump administration, with acting secretary after acting secretary after acting secretary. The constant churn in the Trump administration did not help matters. There’s always going to be a certain amount of turnover at the senior- most levels of a department like DHS, Ana, but it’s important that there be stability at the very top. Mayorkas, the current secretary is very experienced. He was deputy secretary when I was secretary. And I know that he is determined to address this issue in a fair, humane, and consistent way.
CABRERA: Would you be doing anything differently if you were secretary right now?
JOHNSON: I have no idea. I’m not secretary now. It’s easy for me to sit here and try to analyze this problem. I’m not in the thick of it anymore. And I just know how extremely difficult this issue is. No matter what you do, you’re going to make somebody very angry. And it’s an intractable problem as long as the push factors in Central America continue to exist. The lesson I learned is we can do certain things to enhance enforcement that will cause a sharp and short-term effect on the numbers and drive the numbers of migrants crossing the border down. But as long as the push factors in Central America, the poverty, violence, corruption, exists, the numbers are always going to revert back to the longer-term trend lines. That’s why it’s so important that, through multiple administrations, we stay engaged on trying to address the push factors. We’ve done it before in Mexico 20 years ago. It can be done here, too.
CABRERA: Secretary Johnson, thank you so much for your time.