Release Date: Oct. 7, 2015
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
2015 Public Policy Conference
Good morning everybody.
Let me begin by paying a real tribute to Luis Gutiérrez. He is, in my 58 years of experience, probably the most passionate advocate for his cause, which is the rights of immigrants in this country. I’ve had Luis Gutiérrez to my home for dinner. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve seen the passion and enthusiasm; this man believes in what he works so hard for, not as a matter of politics but because he believes it in his heart. I’ll never forget I had Luis over to dinner one night with my wife here in Washington to talk about immigration reform. Luis is very effective. The next day, my wife, not me, my wife receives a really nice bowl of flowers with a note: “Dear Susan, I know you believe as I do.” Very effective.
Thank you for the invitation to be here today. Truth be told, I asked to speak to you. My message today is about our immigration policies and the reforms that we are making. 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. 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.
I was down there and I happened to meet a number of students from Albert Einstein School here in Washington, D.C. Where are you? Give yourselves a hand please. I asked them, what would you like to hear from the Secretary of Homeland Security, the person responsible for keeping everybody safe? Immigration policy. I intend to talk about that.
About a month ago, I was honored to give a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, right in the middle of this country’s heartland. I gave the 56th Green Foundation Lecture at Westminster College. This is a place steeped in history. The most famous Green Lecture at Westminster College was given by Winston Churchill in 1946, the famous “Iron Curtain” speech. In 1954, Harry Truman gave a Green Lecture, which was the inspiration for my remarks a month ago. The title of his speech was “What Hysteria Does to Us.” So, in the wake of that address, what I said at Westminster College, I want to repeat today. 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.
These words are especially true in matters of homeland security, and they are especially true in matters of immigration policy. Why do I say that? There is much misinformation and overheated rhetoric about our immigration policy in this country, best evidenced by a poll that was taken two years ago by Pew Research, which is a nonpartisan organization. The survey asked the following question two years ago: “Just your best guess, compared with ten years ago, do you think the number of immigrants entering the U.S. illegally today is higher, lower, or about the same?” A majority of those surveyed said, 55 percent, said it was their perception that there is more illegal immigration today than there was ten years ago. In fact, the opposite is true.
In Fiscal Year 2000, there were 1.6 million people apprehended on our Southern Border attempting to cross illegally. Apprehensions are an indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally. 1.6 million fifteen years ago. That number in recent years is now a fraction of what it used to be: in Fiscal Year 2013, 414,000; in Fiscal Year 2014 it went up a bit, 479,000; in Fiscal Year 2015, the year we just completed, we estimate that the number will be 331,000, give or take a few. The number in recent months has begun to rise again from Central America, an issue we must address, but in fact the last Fiscal Year the number of apprehensions on our Southern Border were, with the exception of one year, the lowest since 1972.
There is more we can do. 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.
The best commentary on this that I heard was from a border security expert, somebody who works in DHS, who said, “Wait a minute, do you really think that a migrant from Central America, who is motivated enough to travel the entire length south-to-north of Mexico and climb a 10,000 foot mountain is going to be deterred by a ten foot wall?”
Or, as somebody else once said, “Build a fifteen foot wall and I’ll show you a sixteen foot ladder.” In fact, pursuant to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we did build 700 miles of wall in the places where it makes sense. But in the future, more walls is not necessarily the answer. More technology for border security, not more walls.
Perhaps the best advice I received last summer, in the midst of the spike in migration from Central America, was from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: in-country processing, to provide a lawful and safe path for families desperate to bring their children here. So we’ve established in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in-country processing for migrants and we are encouraging people in this country with children in Central America to use it. The longer-term solution is an investment in Central America, which is why this Administration has proposed to the Congress a $1 billion dollar investment in those three countries to solve the longer-term problems that we face.
The President and I are committed to fixing our broken immigration system. We are committed to comprehensive immigration reform. It’s remarkable fifty years ago we passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, fifty years ago this week, in a Congress that consisted of a Democratic caucus, a majority caucus, that included a really wide range of views from Southern segregationists to Northern liberals. Yet that Congress was able to pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Congress, despite the efforts of Luis and Loretta and others, has not passed comprehensive immigration reform. But we continue to make the case. We are determined to fix the system within our existing legal authority. The President’s overall policy is a smart, common sense use of our resources to go after threats to our public safety. Felons not families. Quality over quantity. Give people an opportunity to come forward and be held accountable, and be accountable.
We devised and announced a deferred action for adults like Sophie Cruz’s parents, the young girl who met the Pope several weeks ago. We’re disappointed that we’ve not been able to move forward. I share in your disappointment. We’re fighting that case in the courts, we’re defending that case in the courts, and we’re determined to win because it’s the right thing to do.
We issued ten executive actions last year. Nine out of ten of those are moving forward. One is in the courts, but the other nine are moving forward, the most significant of which is a realignment of our removal, deportation, priorities to focus not on families, not on those who have been here for years and committed no serious crimes, but to focus on convicted criminals. We are making our guidelines clearer.
The Migration Policy Institute, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has said this about our new removal priorities: “These prosecutorial discretion changes, which have received significantly less public attention than the Deferred Action Program, make it unlikely that unauthorized immigrants who would have qualified for DACA or DAPA would be deported. The overall impact of the new memorandum is to describe DHS enforcement priorities more precisely and more narrowly than was the case under the 2010 and 2011 guidance, while broadening the circumstances under which DHS personnel should exercise discretion.
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.
There are reasons for this decline in deportations. First reason: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is actually doing what I told them to do, prioritize convicted criminals. Of those deported just in the period of March to August, 2015, eighty-four percent of those deported were in my top priority for removal: the felons, those at the border, the gang members, the threats to national security. Eighty-four percent of those deported in that top priority. Of those arrested in the same period, ninety-four percent in priorities one or two. At large arrests of those convicted of felonies and significant misdemeanors has gone up, gone up twenty-two percent since last year.
There are other reasons for this decline: simply, there are fewer apprehensions on the Southern Border. The third significant reason is Secure Communities; we’ve ended Secure Communities. Secure Communities was a legally and politically controversial program that led to barriers to our efforts to enforce and uphold public safety. In the period of January 2014 to June 2015, there were 16,500 detainers not honored. We’ve ended the Secure Communities program and we’ve replaced it with a common sense, more effective program that focuses on convicted criminals and does away with detainers.
We’ve received a good reception so far to our new Priority Enforcement Program: of the 25 largest jurisdictions that accept detainers, 13, so far, are now working with us again, including in California the counties of Alameda, Fresno, San Diego, San Mateo, Riverside, and Los Angeles. More are coming online, and I expect we will reach agreement with major cities in the very near future.
We’re making progress on other executive actions. We have issued a proposed rule to expand eligibility for provisional extreme hardship waivers, to lift three and ten-year bars for persons who statutorily qualify for the waiver. The comment period is closed and we are now preparing to issue a final rule. Just today, this morning, we have issued guidance to clarify what the words “extreme hardship” mean, which we believe will have a significant effect on our efforts to improve the immigration system, to provide much needed clarity to the meaning of the words “extreme hardship.” This is something that Congressman Gutiérrez, Congresswoman Lofgren and others have fought for years.
On September 25, the State Department and DHS made changes to the visa bulletin to enable certain families to apply for green cards sooner.
We’ve almost completed guidance to assist the families of those defending our country in the U.S. military to obtain work permits.
Within the next thirty days we will provide public notice of a proposed rule to strengthen the program that provides optional practical training for students in STEM fields studying at U.S. universities.
On May 26, we finalized a new rule that allows spouses of highly skilled H1-B workers to apply for a work authorization, or H-4 visa.
We’re promoting and increasing access to citizenship. Within one week, the week of September 14 through 21, we launched, thanks to the leadership of León Rodríguez who is here, we launched Citizenship Week and Constitution Day. One week, and in one week USCIS naturalized 40,000 people. 40,000 people.
We now permit credit cards to pay for the naturalization fee. We continue to assess a partial fee waiver for the naturalization fee, an idea long championed by Luis and others.
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.”
We must account for these people and encourage them to be accountable. They are not going away. Notwithstanding the political rhetoric, we are not going to deport eleven million people; we are not going to deport a population of people equal in size to New York and Chicago. They live among us, we know them, they are becoming integrated members of society. We want to offer those who have committed no serious crimes and who have been here the opportunity to come forward. We want to encourage them to come out of the shadows. For law enforcement reasons, for reasons of good government, and frankly because it the right thing to do.
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.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I want to say this. I’ve said this at almost every speech I give about homeland security. Homeland security is a balance. We can erect more walls, install more screening devices, and make everybody suspicious of each other, but we should not do so at the cost of who we are as a nation of people who cherish our privacy, our religions, our freedom to speak, travel, and associate, and who celebrate our diversity in our immigrant heritage. In our final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strengths as a nation.
Luis was kind enough to tell you about my grandfather; let me tell you about my grandfather, that Luis doesn’t know. He 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. But the month before he died he wrote the words that you heard Luis quote.
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.
Thank you very much.
Secretary Johnson delivers remarks on the Department’s immigration efforts at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 2015 Public Policy Conference. (DHS Photo/ Jetta Disco)
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)