Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson delivered remarks on immigration policies and immigration reform being undertaken by the Department at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 2015 Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.
Secretary Johnson opened the session by speaking directly to the young people in the audience. “My real message is about—and this is for the young people here—before the program started I was down here and I met a lot of CHCI fellows, gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Secretary Jeh Johnson meets with students from Albert Einstein High School in Washington, D.C. before speaking at the CHCI Public Policy Conference. DHS Photo/Jetta Disco.
During his remarks, Secretary Johnson discussed how leaders in this country have a distinct responsibility to communicate openly and honestly with the American people. “All of us in public office, those who aspire to public office and who command a microphone, owe the public calm, responsible dialogue and decision making. Not overheated, over-simplistic rhetoric and proposals of superficial appeal. In a democracy, the former leads to smart and sustainable policy; the latter can lead to fear, hate, suspicion, prejudice, and government overreach,” Secretary Johnson said. “These words are especially true in matters of homeland security, and they are especially true in matters of immigration policy.”
The Secretary continued, by explaining to the audience how often heated commentary on sensitive issues like immigration lead to misinformation and overheated rhetoric – and incorrect perceptions of illegal immigration among the American people.
“As a sovereign nation we must protect our borders, but building a wall across the entire Southwest Border is not the answer. Building a wall across the winding Rio Grande, through the remote desert, and in mountains 10,000 feet high is not the answer. Investing hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, in taxpayer money in building such a wall across the entire 1,900 mile border is not the answer.”
President Obama and Secretary Johnson remain committed to fixing our broken immigration system. In his remarks, Secretary Johnson outlined a number of steps the Department has taken to do just that – and we are making progress in those areas. Read more about the Department’s immigration actions here.
“Overall, the new enforcement policies have the potential to substantially transform the U.S. deportation system, particularly within the U.S. interior.” We’re focused on criminals. We’re focused on public safety and border security. Removals in Fiscal Year 2012, as many people know, reached a high of 409,000. Fiscal Year 2013, the number went down to 368,000. Fiscal Year 2014, the number went down, removals, to 315,000. I anticipate that in Fiscal Year 2015 the number will be significantly less than that.”
We’re also promoting and increasing access to citizenship. In fact, during Citizenship Week in September, USCIS welcomed 40,000 new U.S. citizens. And this week, in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas – himself a naturalized U.S. citizen - welcomed new Americans this week.
“In terms of deferred action, we continue to fight the case in Texas and defend the case. We want to offer those who have been in this country for five years, who have children, who are citizens or lawful permanent residents, and who have committed no serious crimes the opportunity to come forward and be counted. Receive a work authorization, pay taxes, and get on the books. To those who say we don’t have the authority to do this without a change in law, I say “change the law.”
Secretary Johnson also reminded members of the audience that homeland security is a balance, between liberty and security, and stated that we should and will never give up our greatest national strengths – the freedom of religion, rights to privacy, and our immigrant heritage.
”The Pope, when he was here, reminded us all in this country of the basic dignity of every migrant. In this country I firmly believe that there should be no second-class people. Everyone should have the opportunity to seek more of the American experience.”
Representative Luis Gutiérrez and Secretary Johnson confer before the Secretary’s remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 2015 Public Policy Conference.
Prior to the Secretary’s remarks, Representative Luis Gutiérrez introduced the Secretary by telling a story about Secretary Johnson’s grandfather. The Secretary’s grandfather, Charles Johnson, was a sociologist and the first African American president of Fisk University who spent his life advocating for the advancement of civil rights for African Americans. And in his conclusion, Secretary Johnson recounted pieces of his own personal story to illustrate this point. “[My grandfather] died in 1956, he wrote a lot, you heard some of what he wrote. He never lost hope. This was a man who, in 1949, was dragged before the House Un-American Committee to deny that he was a member of the Communist Party and gave an impassioned speech about the patriotism of the African-American. Dr. Charles Johnson died in 1956 basically a second-class citizen. A man with honorary degrees from Harvard and Columbia, a sociologist, died in a train station a second-class citizen,” Secretary Johnson said. “So I say to the young people, never lose hope in your country, in your leaders; never lose faith in the code of this nation and the democracy that we are; always have hope and faith in your country and its system of government.”
Secretary Johnson participates in a moderated discussion with Representative Luis Gutiérrez on the Department’s immigration efforts at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 2015 Public Policy Conference. DHS Photo/Jetta Disco.
During a question-and-answer session with the audience, the Secretary answered a number of questions about immigration reform and the Department’s role in these efforts.
He challenged the audience – in particularly, the young people – to work together with the Department to bring about necessary change and stressed the importance of public service. “Mario Flores, who works for me, a decorated combat veteran of the U.S. Army who’s been deployed to Afghanistan now works for me today, is a graduate of the CHCI program. Let’s give Mario a hand.” We’re proud of Mario, and the many others like him across this Department who have benefited from leadership development programs like CHCI and continue to serve their country both on and off the battlefield.
You can read the Secretary’s full remarks from today’s speech here.