- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2014

New Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday he has tapped his deputy, Alejandro Mayorkas, to prepare the department for an eventual legalization program that would oversee the processing of millions of illegal immigrants into future citizens.

In his first major policy speech since winning confirmation to the top job in December, Mr. Johnson said he will continue the policies of his predecessor, Janet Napolitano, which put a priority on some illegal immigrants with criminal records for deportation while leaving most illegal immigrants safe from the danger of being expelled from the country.

But Mr. Johnson also said he doesn’t want immigration reform to be used by either Democrats or Republicans as a political issue.

As a former top lawyer at the Defense Department, Mr. Johnson had little experience with immigration before taking the Homeland Security post. Last month he took a trip to the border and met with law enforcement, ranchers whose property is being destroyed by illegal activity, and with immigration advocates.

He said he believes border security has made major strides under President Obama, and said he wants to see Congress act on legalizing illegal immigrants — and giving them a specific path to citizenship.

“They are not going away. They are not going to self-deport. Most have been here for years. Many have come here as children,” he said. “This is not rewarding people for breaking the law. It is giving them an opportunity to get right with the law. and it is preferable to what we have now.”

Many Republicans disagree with that assessment.

GOP leaders last week unveiled their “principles” for an immigration deal, saying that while young illegal immigrants brought to the country by their parents would get a special pathway to citizenship, most illegal immigrants won’t. Republicans argue that doing so would be rewarding illegal behavior.

They also said this week that they don’t trust the Obama administration to enforce strict new border and interior enforcement laws that would be necessary to make sure there is no future wave of illegal immigrants.

Mr. Johnson, peaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, was asked what he might do to earn that trust, but he didn’t have an answer. Instead, he said legalizing illegal immigrants is part of protecting the homeland because it would allow his department to run background checks and see who should be allowed to remain in the country.

Many Republicans have argued that the Homeland Security Department itself has been a roadblock to getting an immigration bill done, since it was unable to provide information or even to define standards for a secure border.

Ms. Napolitano and her top lieutenants also faced criticism from immigration agents and officers who felt her policies tied their hands in enforcing the law.

While acknowledging moral problems in some agencies, Mr. Johnson said he will continue those policies which he said “prioritize” the way money is spent so that it focuses deporting those with criminal records or repeat immigration violators.

His move to put Mr. Mayorkas in charge of getting the department ready for a mass legalization signals that he is preparing for the potential passage of a law in Congress this year.

“We’re beginning to think about what we need to do to get ready for this. This is an advanced planning team effort to anticipate what the department needs to do,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Mayorkas, the new deputy secretary, is a natural choice for that task, since he was previously the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is the agency in the department charged with approving immigration and visa applications.

But the labor union representing USCIS officers and adjudicators says its members are far from being ready to handle the potentially 11 million applications for legal status and possibly citizenship that could come with any new legalization program.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide