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Statement by Secretary Johnson Regarding Today’s Trip to Texas

Release Date: 
December 15, 2014

For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
Contact: 202-282-8010

Dilley, Texas
South Texas Family Residential Center
(As delivered)

Good afternoon. I’m here in Dilley, Texas today. The purpose of this trip is to promote and to highlight the border security aspects of the executive actions President Obama announced on Nov. 20.

Our new policies emphasize the removal of felons over families. We must be smart in the use of our limited enforcement resources, and focus those resources on the removal of those who represent threats to public safety and national security. 

Our new policies also offer undocumented immigrants who have been here for years, committed no serious crimes, and have children here who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, the opportunity to come out of the shadows, submit to a criminal records check, pay taxes and become accountable. This is an act of simple, common sense. The reality is that no president’s administration – past, present or future, Republican or Democrat – is going to find and deport all these people. So, we want to encourage them to come out of the shadows, get on the books, and be accountable. 

Our new policies—and this is the reason I’m here today—also place new emphasis on border security. Over the last 15 years, we’ve made considerable investments in border security, considerable investments in the U.S. Border Patrol, particularly in and on the southern border. We’ve invested in more personnel, resources, and technology and apprehensions on our southern border – which is a major indicator of attempts to cross the border illegally – are down dramatically from a high of 1.6 million in the year 2000 to about 480,000 this past fiscal year. This number is at the lowest it’s been since the 1970s. But, we can and must do more to secure our borders. 

Our new policies therefore draw a sharp distinction between past and future. Those who came here illegally in the past, have been here for years, have committed no serious crimes, and have become integrated members of American life, are not priorities for removal. But, all those who came here illegally after Jan. 1, 2014, in other words, beginning of this year, are now priorities for removal to their home countries. 

This must be clear going forward: Our borders are not open to illegal migration.  

To enforce this policy, we are maintaining, and adding to, the border security resources we put in place to respond to the spike in illegal migration into south Texas last summer. 

That’s the reason I’m here today. Here in Dilley, Texas I am announcing the opening of a new detention center here. This facility will begin operating in a few days. It is intended for adults who cross the border illegally with their children. It replaces the temporary facility we set up in Artesia, New Mexico for the same purpose, which is closing. This new facility is much larger. The Artesia facility could hold up to about 700 people; this one will have the capacity to hold up to 2,400 people. 

I am also here to announce a major step forward in our new Southern Border Campaign plan, which is why these gentlemen are standing next to me. The Department of Homeland Security will embark on a unified, Department-wide Southern Border Campaign plan. This plan will put to use, in a strategic and coordinated way, the assets and personnel of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Coast Guard, and other resources of the Department when and if necessary. We are discarding the stove pipes. 

As part of this new strategy, we are establishing three new joint task forces, each headed by a senior official of this Department, to direct the combined resources of CBP, ICE, USCIS and the U.S. Coast Guard in three discrete areas. The first, Joint Task Force-East, will be responsible for our maritime approaches across the southeast, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean. The second, Joint Task Force-West, will be responsible for our southwest land border from Texas to California. And the third will be a standing Joint Task Force for Investigations to support the work of the other two task forces. 

Today I am announcing the directors of each of these three task forces:

Joint Task Force-East will be headed by U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee. Admiral Lee is currently the Commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area command. He will retain that command in addition to this new assignment.

Joint Task Force-West will be headed by Commander Robert Harris, currently the Chief Border Patrol Agent for the Laredo Sector on the southern border, and the Commander of our South Texas Campaign. 

Joint Task Force-Investigations will be headed by David Marwell, Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas office of Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE. 

Under the leadership of these three directors, these three Joint Task Forces will enable more effective, efficient border security and more unified border security efforts across our southern border and approaches.

There are other border security measurers we put in place last summer, which we will keep in place for the future:

With the Department of Justice, we will continue “Operation Coyote,” our law enforcement crackdown on the criminal smugglers who induce people to take the long, dangerous journey from Central America and cross our border illegally into the United States, and the seizure of the illicit payments made to these smugglers. To date, these efforts have resulted in 977 criminal arrests, 1,531 administrative arrests, and the seizure of 609 bank accounts with over a million dollars in them. 

We will continue to work with the government of Mexico on our shared border security interests. I am going there tomorrow for this and other purposes.

We will continue to work with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to address with them the conditions in those three countries that are the “push” factors for illegal migration from there to here, and to repatriate those of their citizens who came here illegally.

Both here and in Central America, we will continue our campaign to inform the public about the dangers of the long journey from Central America in an effort to enter the United States illegally, and correcting the misinformation the coyotes are putting out about supposed “free passes” for someone who comes to the United States. 

The message should be clear: as a result of our new emphasis on the security of the southern border, it will now be more likely that you will be apprehended; it will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back; and it will now be more likely that your hard-earned money to smuggle a family member to the United States will be seized and will never reach its intended source.

Finally, to those who are desperate to see their children escape persecution in Central America, we are offering the opportunity to follow an alternative, lawful path to the United States. As the Vice President announced last month, we will establish an in-country refugee program in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to allow parents who are lawfully present in the United States to request access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for their children still in those three countries.   

Our executive actions are significant and comprehensive, but President Obama views them as a first step toward fixing our immigration system. We look to Congress for the more fundamental reforms that only changes in law can provide. We remain willing to work with Congress toward that goal.

We also need Congress to support our enhanced border security. Congress has failed to act on this Department’s request for supplemental funding for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, to pay for our surge in resources to the southern border in response to last summer’s spike in illegal migration there. We need to pay the bill for that surge, and keep those resources in place for the future. 

In further jeopardy of homeland security, this Department is now funded by a continuing resolution that will expire on Feb. 27, 2015. 

If Congress is interested with me in supporting the border security measures we’ve outlined here today, it should act on our budget request for Fiscal Year 2015. 

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Last Published Date: December 15, 2014
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