- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’s seen some signs of progress in getting other countries to take their illegal immigrants back when the U.S. tries to deport them, and signaled he’d wait to see how those efforts play out before he’ll commit to stripping visas from those that still refuse.

He’s bucking bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill where lawmakers, spurred by several high-profile cases, say the U.S. has been woefully reluctant to play hardball with other countries — leaving their criminals on the streets here, where they’ve gone on to kill Americans.

Mr. Johnson, attending a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, also said he’s on track to meet President Obama’s goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, defended his department’s treatment of illegal immigrants from Central America, and said that as long as they aren’t endangering the candidates, his Secret Service agents shouldn’t be policing the press covering presidential campaigns.

He said it’s too early to determine who was responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, which have embarrassed party officials in recent weeks — but said the growing potential for cybersecurity problems means it may be necessary to designate elections as “critical infrastructure,” which would invoke a more active role for the department in promoting security.

“There’s a vital national interest in our election process so I do think we need to consider by my department whether it’s critical infrastructure,” he said.

Mr. Johnson is the second Homeland Security secretary under President Obama, and oversees a sprawling department that includes the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, emergency response and transportation security.

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Perhaps no part of his job has been more controversial, however, than immigration enforcement and border security, where he takes heat from both sides of the debate.

On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson fended off questions about why he won’t stop deportations for Central Americans who’ve snuck into the U.S., saying that while he sympathizes with young children caught after making the perilous journey, the country cannot give up all enforcement.

“We don’t have open borders and if we ceased removals we’d have a humanitarian crisis. We’d have a surge,” he said.

Mr. Johnson has overseen a huge spike in Central Americans flooding the border, beginning in 2013 and peaking in 2014. The numbers dropped by the end of 2014, but rose again in late 2015 and early 2016 — and have remained high through this summer.

He’s also managed Mr. Obama’s enforcement priorities, which have carved more than 9 million of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants out of serious danger of being deported.

But Mr. Johnson has recently faced pressure from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who say he’s not doing enough to force other countries to accept their own criminal immigrants back.

Under federal law, if Mr. Johnson decides other countries are recalcitrant, the State Department must stop issuing visas to visitors from those countries.

Lawmakers said it’s time Mr. Johnson take that step, but he said Wednesday he’s not there yet. He said he’s still waiting to see if negotiations and pressure can produce results.

“We have seen some progress in our efforts, but in my judgment not enough,” he said.

China and Cuba are among some of the worst actors, with tens of thousands of criminals between the two countries loose on U.S. streets. Mr. Johnson said he’s had direct negotiations with the Chinese, and wants to see them do more. And as for Cuba, he said it’s “a continuing process.”

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