Obama DHS Sec Jeh Johnson: ‘We Believed It Was Necessary’ to Detain Children, Families

On this weekend’s broadcast of “Fox News Sunday,” former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that during the Obama administration, they did detain some children alone and families.

He argued that at the time it was justified.

Partial transcript as follows:

WALLACE: Let’s look — because you mentioned it — at how the Obama administration and you as secretary of Homeland Security handle this back in 2014 when there was also a spike in children, most of them unaccompanied coming across the border. You started jailing entire families. In some cases, not a lot, but in some, you separated children from their parents in these pictures that we are putting up, from 2014, show pictures of unaccompanied minors in effect jail situations. As you look back on that, did you handle it so well?

JOHNSON: Well, Chris, without a doubt the images and the reality from 2014 just like 2018 are not pretty. And so, we expanded family detention. We had then 34,000 beds for family detention, only 95 of 34,000 equipped to deal with families. So, we extended it. I freely admit it was controversial. We believed it was necessary at the time. I still believe it is necessary to name (ph) a certain capability for families. We can’t have catch and release and in my three years we deported, or repatriated or returned over a million people.

But, again, you can deal with this on the border. You can try different things. We did not want to go so far as to separate families. But unless we deal with the underlying causes that are motivating people to come here in the first place we are going to continue to bang our heads against the wall on this issue.

WALLACE: All right. Let’s look at the problem that President Trump is trying to address right now. Let’s put it up on the screen: 40,000 to 50,000 people across the border illegally each month. Last month, 9,500 family members crossed the border illegally and up to 40,000 unaccompanied minors cross per year.

When I was talking this week to a top member of the Trump administration, he — and I told him you were going to be on show, he said, I have one question for Secretary Johnson: what is the Democrat solution? How would they deal?

I mean, it’s easy to say, well, we’ve got to fix Central America. But come on, that isn’t going to solve the 40,000, 50,000 coming each month.

JOHNSON: Well —

WALLACE: Certainly not anytime soon. How would you deal with that flood of people coming over the border now?

JOHNSON: Well, I’ll tell you of Jeh Johnson’s solution. Continue our border security efforts. Give the border control, give immigration enforcement the tools they need, but let’s not go so far as two separate families.

But also continue what Congress started two years ago, aid to Central America to deal with the property and violence and also encourage other countries in the region, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, to develop their own systems for asylum, for refugee processing.

It was someone from the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops who told me in 2014 you can’t just simply padlock a burning building without providing people with an alternative path to safety. And so, we need to develop those additional paths for getting —

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: But, sir, that isn’t — respectfully, that isn’t going to solve the problem anytime soon. It won’t solve it for months. It probably wouldn’t solve it for years if we put $750 million, which is what we did during the Obama administration into foreign aid in those three countries. They are pretty broken countries.

You’ve got a real crisis on the border with 50,000 people a month, 600,000 people a year coming across the border. How do you stop that? And what’s wrong with zero-tolerance, the idea you come across the border, you broke the law, we’re going to prosecute you?

JOHNSON: Three things: first, Chris, you’re right, there are no easy fixes to this problem. And Washington is bad at investing in long-term solutions.

Number two, history will tell you, lessons learned, lessons learned in 2014, you can do certain things that will drive down illegal migration in the short term as we did in 2014, but then the longer term patterns always revert to form. The numbers always creep back up.

President Trump himself saw that in 2017, the numbers went down dramatically and then they are back up again. And so, you can do these things, but we’ve got to make the longer-term investment in dealing with illegal migration generally. And if we don’t do that, we are going to continue to have this problem.

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