Homeland Security Chief: We're Enforcing Broken Immigration Law

Image: Homeland Security Chief: We're Enforcing Broken Immigration Law

Sunday, 27 Apr 2014 01:01 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Department of Homeland Security is enforcing the nation's immigration laws every day, Secretary Jeh Johnson says, but the broken "immigration system in this country is not working."

"I don't understand those who are saying we're not enforcing the law," Johnson, who was appointed as secretary this past fall, told ABC senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas on Sunday's "This Week" show. "We're enforcing the law every day."

On Friday, protesters marched on to DHS headquarters to confront the agency over deportation of immigrants, an issue President Barack Obama asked Johnson last month to oversee.

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Johnson said that he believes in a more humane approach to immigration than now exists.

"Immigration laws need to conform with American values," Johnson told Thomas. "I believe one of those American values is respect for the sanctity of the family unit."

Tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but don't have serious criminal records could be shielded from deportation under a policy change being weighed by Johnson.

The change, if adopted following a review ordered by Obama, could limit removals of people who have little or no criminal record but have committed repeat immigration violations such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, or failing to comply with a deportation order.

The possible move, confirmed by two people with knowledge of the review, would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists. They want Obama to expand a two-year-old program that grants work permits to certain immigrants brought here illegally as children to include other groups, such as the parents of any children born in the U.S.

In other matters discussed in the Sunday interview, Johnson recalled being in Manhattan on 9/11 and seeing the World Trade Center on fire, and minutes later, seeing the second plane hit.

"I saw the buildings collapse," said Johnson. "And like a lot of New Yorkers that day, I went down to the street and literally wandered the streets, asking, what can I do?"

And now, in his new role as secretary of Homeland Security, the division created following the 9/11 attacks, Johnson said the threat of terrorism is still very real.

"You have to sort out a lot of noise in what we read," said Johnson. "Aa lot of this stuff can be pretty alarming. It can be sobering, no doubt. If we had an event, this essentially is my eyes and ears."

Johnson said that his department looks at everything, including the threats against cybersecurity, which is "not only a threat" but "a series of ongoing daily attacks."

He also said that his division is taking a hard look at airport security after a 15-year-old stowaway was able to travel from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of an airplane.

"I'm concerned that someone was able to breach airport security and position himself in an aircraft like that," said Johnson.

Mass shootings also need to be addressed, said Johnson.

"This is a growing phenomenon around the country," he said. "I was in the Department of Defense during the first Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, and when the second one occurred a couple of weeks ago, I was devastated. It's army bases, it's Navy installations, it's schools...I want solutions before I leave office."

Syria is also becoming a growing concern for Homeland Security, said Johnson.

"We're worried about people who are going into Syria [and] being recruited by extremists there," he said.

The United States also has to be concerned about the "lone wolf" terrorist, said Johnson.

"We have to be concerned about the lone wolf, the independent actor," he said. "The Boston marathon bombing a year ago is a perfect example of that."

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