Homeland Security Chief: 'A Fresh Start' Coming to Deportation Policy

Homeland Security Chief: 'A Fresh Start' Coming to Deportation Policy

Thursday on PBS’ “News Hour” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the Secure Communities program needs a “fresh start.” The program started under President George W. Bush in 2008 currently allows officials to run the fingerprints of anyone booked for a local or state crime, giving ICE the opportunity to deport those with immigration violations while in custody. Johnson’s comments point to a policy that would only deal with “those who are convicted of something.”

Partial transcript as follows:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about some of the other issues that you have to work on every day.

One is immigration. While you wait for the Congress to decide what it’s going to do one way or another about the question of immigration reform, we know the administration is looking at overhauling some aspects of your deportation policy, including undoing a program that really began in the Bush administration that targets undocumented immigrants who have been found guilty of only minor offenses and who have no prior criminal record other than that. Why is this particular policy something that deserves to be, that should be overhauled or done away with?

JOHNSON: Well, you’re correct that we are evaluating our current enforcement priorities. That’s something the president announced that he had asked me to do on March 13. I have been looking at this since I took office in late December.

Part of that, I believe, is taking a fresh look at the Secure Communities program, which is what you referred to a moment ago. In my judgment, Secure Communities should be an efficient way to work with state and local law enforcement to reach the removal priorities that we have, those who are convicted of something. The program has become very controversial. And I told a group of sheriffs and chiefs that I met with a couple days ago that I thought we needed a fresh start. And this is a conversation I have been having with a number of mayors and governors.

WOODRUFF: So could that happen in the near term?

JOHNSON: I believe it — I believe it will and it should.

WOODRUFF: Can you give — say when?

JOHNSON: We’re in the midst of evaluating potential revisions to our policies right now. I have been having meetings as recently as today.

WOODRUFF: I asked you because, of course, groups that are advocating for immigration reform and doing something about deportation have been raising a lot of questions.

There’s another issue that immigration advocates, immigration reform advocates have focused on, and that is the so-called Deferred Action program that — where currently, as you know very well, this is a program that protects children who were brought in by parents illegally.


WOODRUFF: These pro-reform groups want to expand that to the parents, to the families of these children. Is this something the administration is looking seriously at?

JOHNSON: We’re looking at a wide variety of things.

And I have talked to a number of individuals, concerned groups about the potential for expanding the DACA program, revising our removal priorities. And I would say that we have to be careful not to preempt Congress in certain areas.

They are the lawmakers. Whatever we do in the executive branch, we have to do within the confines of existing law. So we have a fair amount of discretion when it comes to how we prioritize our enforcement activities. And, two years ago, the administration developed the DACA program, which I think is a program that has been very effective. And…

WOODRUFF: This is for the children, only up to age 30.

JOHNSON: This is for the children, correct.

WOODRUFF: Which — it sounds like you are saying, though, this is less likely to happen than what we were just discussing about…

JOHNSON: I’m still in the midst of my review.

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