As he was crafting President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met repeatedly with lawmakers, advocacy groups and lawyers pushing for him to go as broad as possible in granting a deportation amnesty to illegal immigrants.
Mr. Johnson’s official calendars, obtained under an open records request by the Federation for American Immigration Reform and shown to The Washington Times, show that Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois and fellow Democrats in Congress got about twice as many meetings as Republicans, and outside lobbying groups who supported the amnesty were repeatedly welcomed.
But groups on the other side of the debate struggled to get Mr. Johnson’s ear. They said they had to resort to pressure from Congress to get an invite to the two meetings they arranged. One group, the labor union representing Border Patrol agents, says it still has not met with the secretary despite repeated requests.
Mr. Johnson’s calendars also show he devoted more meeting time in Washington to preparing for Mr. Obama’s amnesty than he did to handling the spike of illegal immigrants from Central America. The surge across the border in 2014 exposed massive holes in U.S. immigration policy.
Mr. Johnson’s time has increasingly been absorbed by fighting federal courts that are playing more active roles in setting limits on how much latitude he has to enforce immigration laws — from both ends of the spectrum.
The calendars, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, span 2013 through 2015, which means they include the final year of Janet Napolitano’s tenure as secretary as well as the first two years of Mr. Johnson’s.
“These one-sided schedules reflect the same one-sided approach of an administration utterly contemptuous of the general public’s concerns about immigration and related topics,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
“They rarely, if ever, sought input from groups representing law-abiding citizens whose lives, jobs and communities are affected by mass illegal immigration. Instead, the policies of this administration have been dictated by advocates for the people who break our laws and business interests that use immigration to undermine American workers,” he said.
Mr. Johnson disputed Mr. Stein’s contention that he played favorites in his consultations during the run-up to the 2014 policy.
Mr. Johnson said he learned during his time as the Pentagon’s top attorney, crafting the end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gay troops from serving openly, about the value of hearing from all sides.
“Any suggestion that our views about the executive actions were formed because we spent far more time with immigration advocates than those opposed is simply false,” the secretary told The Washington Times.
“In 2014, I sought to meet with groups who wanted to express their views. To be sure, we heard from a lot more of the groups who were supportive of immigration reform than those who were against, and so lots of organizations would write me letters stating their views in very precise terms with specific proposals for reform. I heard from far fewer groups and individuals who were opposed. Notwithstanding that, I made an affirmative effort to hear from pro-enforcement groups,” he said.
Mr. Johnson wrote many of the executive actions himself and defended them as lawful and the best way to direct the use of limited resources.
“I was not going to do this without assuring myself that I had the views of my component [agency] leadership — political and career personnel,” he said.
The sheer size and scope of the department’s portfolio, and the gargantuan challenges facing the secretary, quickly become clear from the breadth of issues that appeared on the calendars.
On one day in March 2015, Mr. Johnson’s calendar called for him to get to work at his usual time of 6:30 a.m., receive his daily intelligence briefing at 8:30 a.m., followed by a classified meeting. He then had a meeting with his counterterrorism advisory board and other sessions on airport security, Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Syrian refugees.
Also under the department’s purview are the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, responsibility for the nation’s cyberdefenses, mass-transit security, customs and trade policies, and response to pandemics such as Ebola.
Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Johnson engaged with the press, including on-the-record interviews and informal meetings. He had two off-the-record sessions with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, a lunch with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and meetings with reported from a number of newspapers, including The Washington Times.
The secretaries’ most frequent guests from outside the Homeland Security Department was Cecilia Munoz, a top adviser to Mr. Obama who used to be the top lobbyist at the National Council of La Raza, where she pushed for legalization of illegal immigrants.
Ms. Munoz notched 19 meetings with both secretaries from 2013 through 2015, with the frequency picking up in 2014. On six of those occasions, she and Mr. Johnson were joined by Neil Eggleston, the White House’s chief attorney.
They were likely working on Mr. Obama’s 2014 immigration executive actions — the unilateral overhaul of U.S. immigration policy that will likely define Mr. Johnson’s tenure.
The actions included encouraging citizenship, trying to streamline the legal visa process, setting enforcement priorities that carved most illegal immigrants out of any danger of deportation, and granting up to 5 million illegal immigrant parents and Dreamers “deferred action,” which amounts to a three-year amnesty from deportation, and a three-year work-permit to let them legally hold down jobs while under the amnesty.
On Mr. Johnson’s schedules, some meetings stand out, including one early in his tenure with Alli McCracken, co-director of anti-war activist group Code Pink.
In terms of members of Congress, he consulted with nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
The most frequent of those was Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, with nearly 20 meetings and phone calls. Mr. Gutierrez, the most prominent immigrant rights defender in Congress, was also a frequent guest.
On the Republican side, Mr. Johnson talked with Rep. John R. Carter of Texas, chairman of the House subcommittee that controlled his budget, nearly 10 times, and Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, eight times.
The calendars obtained by the Federation for American Immigration Reform show dozens of meetings with groups pushing for legalization of illegal immigrants, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Community Change, the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO.
On the other side of the debate, the calendars show a single meeting with the labor union for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — and that was only after a member of Congress urged Mr. Johnson to take the meeting, according to ICE Council President Chris Crane.
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents Border Patrol line agents, said it sought meetings from 2013 through 2015. “We were ignored,” said spokesman Shawn Moran.
Mr. Johnson said he made it a point to talk to get beyond agency leaders and talk to line officers and agents, including at town halls with ICE agents in Baltimore and New York. He said the chief concern he heard was the need for pay reforms — something he took care of as part of the 2014 executive actions and congressional legislation.
Mr. Johnson did hold meetings one day in May 2014 with anti-amnesty groups and with family members of victims of illegal immigrant crimes, including the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Don Rosenberg, whose son was killed in a traffic accident by an illegal immigrant driving without a license.
Mr. Rosenberg said his meeting was scheduled because of pressure from the office of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and House Judiciary Committee chairman.
“Were they going to meet with us if they didn’t get a phone call? Probably not,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said his and other anti-amnesty organizations had to request the meeting and didn’t feel like they made much headway with an administration that already knew which direction it was heading.
“They kind of decided, have everybody — all the immigration skeptic groups all together — so they could check off the box,” Mr. Krikorian said.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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