U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson stuck to his talking points Sunday, refusing to answer several direct questions about whether tens of thousands of illegal immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border this year will eventually be deported.
“Are you prepared to deport these children and young mothers that we’re seeing?” “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked Johnson, referring to the 52,000 unaccompanied child immigrants and 39,000 parents with children – mostly from Central America – who have been apprehended between Oct. 1 and June 15 at the U.S. border.
“Our message to those who come here illegally, our border is not open to illegal migration. And we are taking a number of steps to address it, including turning people around faster,” said Johnson.
Much of the difficulty in handling the heavy surge stems from a 2008 law requires DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to turn the illegal immigrants over to the Department of Health and Human Services which then places them in temporary housing while they await deportation proceedings.
But the Obama administration has not provided much transparency on how that process works or how many of the unaccompanied children and parents with children will be deported versus how many will be allowed to stay in the U.S.
“Do they need to be deported? Or, I’ve seen some reporting suggesting that more than half of them could end up staying with families in America,” Gregory pressed.
“The law requires that when DHS identifies as an unaccompanied child we turn them over to Department of Health and Human Services, but there is a deportation proceeding commenced against the child,” said Johnson, again out-maneuvering Gregory’s question.
But Gregory continued.
“I’m sorry, it sounds like a very careful response,” he said. “Are they going to be deported or not? Will most of these children that we have seen in this desperate situation stay in America or be returned to their homes in Central America?”
“There is a deportation proceeding that is commenced against illegal migrants, including children,” said Johnson, again avoiding the question. “We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular consistent with our laws and our values.”
“I’m trying to get answer to, ‘Will most of them end up staying, in your judgment?’” Gregory asked again.
“I think we need to find more efficient effective ways to turn this tide around, generally. And we’ve already begun to do that,” said Johnson.
In the interview, Johnson maintained that the heavy flow of illegal immigrants is due to a number of “push factors,” including violence in Central America. He denied that the Obama administration’s policies, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, have contributed to the influx. He said that human smuggling organizations are lying to the immigrants telling them that they will be provided “free passes” to stay in the U.S.
Asked how many immigrants will be apprehended this year, Johnson refused to provide a number, saying only “I believe we’re going to stem this tide.”
He also declined to say whether Obama will visit the U.S. border during a visit to Texas this week.
“The president can’t be every place he’d like to be or should be,” Johnson said.