House Homeland Security Hearing with Secretary Johnson (Updated 2/26/14)

A 02/26/14 House Homeland Security Hearing on, "The Secretary’s Vision for the Future—Challenges and Priorities."

AILA National will provide live, continuous updates from the hearing on the day of.

Witness List

The Honorable Jeh Johnson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

10:00am START OF HEARING (The summary on this page will only include questions or comments related to immigration and will not be a comprehensive summary of all topics covered in the hearing.)

10:06am Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) gives his opening statement.
Sir, your new position is the most important in all of the federal government-you are at the helm of the department that is responsible for our national security. Last year this committee unanimously passed the Border Security Results act which requires a strategic plan with measurable goals to secure the border. I'm hopeful with your DOD experience you will be able to organize your staff and work with the committee to address border security at the national strategic level. Next week marks 11 years since the creation of DHS and no one should minimize the difficulty in combining 22 different agencies and organizations. With the DHS senior vacancy rate at 38% I hope that you will convince the White House to approve your suggestions quickly.

10:12am Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) gives his opening statement.
I appreciate the outreach you've made to members of this committee.

10:18am Secretary Johnson gives his opening statement.
I look forward to working with this committee to meet the critical mission of homeland security. I'm mindful of the surveys that indicate that morale is low in DHS, I will be a champion for the men and women of DHS and will advocate on their behalf. I am actively trying to fill the vacancies in senior positions and look forward to a continued relationship with this committee.

10:30am Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) begins his questions.

Q: The administration has been making a sales pitch that you have deported more people than other administrations, but you all account the turnarounds at the border in your deportation numbers, correct?
A: Yes, that was reflected in the removal numbers.
Q: The problem is other administrations didn't include turn backs at the border in their deportation numbers, so to say you're setting records simply isn't accurate. If you look at interior deportations they are down 40% since 2009-so for this administration to say it's breaking records in removing individuals is not accurate. So you are inflating your figures even though you are not deporting from the interior.
A: My understanding is that with consistent to prior administrations we have reported the overall numbers, but last year we broke out the different kinds of removals.
Q: What is the administration doing with immigrants who have been charged with serious crimes? My understanding is that tens of thousands are being released back into our committees. A CRS report from a year ago says 14% of individual who have been released by DHS had been charged with DUIs, robbery or other violent crimes. Why?
A: I am committed to removing those who represent national security, public safety, and border security threats-that requires a constant evaluation of what we are doing.
Q: Shouldn't these individuals be a priority to be removed, why are we releasing them back into the community? Do you not think they represent a public safety threat, those who have committed those crimes? A few years ago the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said only 6.5% of the border is under actual control, the administration didn't like that number and so stopped using that statistic. That means we haven't gotten any new statistics since then.
A: I agree with the goal of establishing metrics for what constitutes border security and we're working towards a goal that we can share with Congress. When I was at the southwest border and talking with the experts, they emphasized an agile strategy that is mobile and agile and that can follow the trends on illegal migration as they arise. There is always more work to do.

10:41am Rep. Sanchez (D-CA) begins her questions.
Q: We have a particular situation along the California/Mexico border, the waits are 2-3 hours sometime in the pedestrian line to walk across. Mexicali gets to about 125 degrees in the summer and there are no shade areas to wait in. It will take about $1,000,000 to restructure the pedestrian crossing, the Chamber is coming up with about half the money to do that, what are your thoughts? I am a big fan of the biometric exit system, the former Secretary sat in front of us and said she wasn't going to do it-I want to hear your thoughts on getting this done.
A: I was in LA Friday and met with a coalition of those concerned with immigration reform, including the Mayor. I will look at the wait times at Port of Entry you mentioned. Biometrics is the gold standard, it's a place we should ultimately get done, but there are some practical and cost consideration to doing that.

10:54am Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX) begins her questions. [HIGHLIGHTS AILA PRIORITIES]
Q: I want to talk about detention, the fact that the numbers of people in detention has jumped from 167,000 to 478,000 in the past 12 years and there has not been much use of the Alternatives to Detentions options, why? I want to thank the officers of CBP, but I am concerned about the number of deaths and the issues dealing with excessive force in CBP. How will you engage to make sure CBP reforms are done quickly and professionally? In addition, short term facilities in the border hold three times as many as they're supposed to and often have inhumane conditions. We're in the business of protecting our borders, but we're also a country that believes in humanity. What will you do to address these issues?
A: When I was general counsel at DOD I visited Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq and urged certain reforms to be made. I visited the detention center in South Texas already and am planning on visiting others around the country, it's an issue that I care about. Almost everyone who crosses the border illegally has paid money to a smuggling operation and I think the key is to attack the network directly. I'm very interested and concerned about use of force. A law enforcement agency must be credible in the communities that it operates in. I was happy to learn that the CBP commissioner plans to make the use of force guidelines public. I am also interested in reviewing some of the recent cases myself to make sure we get it right.

10:59am Rep. Broun (R-GA) begins his questions.
Q: If we had as much stonewalling from this administration at the border we'd have a secure border. You claim that comprehensive immigration reform is a matter of homeland security. You claim that those who are here illegally have earned the right to be citizens. But the past shows amnesty simply doesn't work, we have to enforce the law that are on the books. Promising amnesty seems to encourage, not discourage, illegal entry into this country. Do you believe that you're apparent inclination towards amnesty will improve illegal immigration? And do you honestly believe that those who have broken our laws have earned the right to be citizens?
A: The quote you attribute to me is a misquote. What I support is how it is reflected in the bipartisan Senate bill, that those present in this country who go through a background check, are held accountable and pay their taxes should be eligible to be put on the path to earned citizenship.
Q: I am very concerned about refugee relocation, because we are getting a lot of refugees into my home state of Georgia and I'm not sure that they're being vetted as thoroughly as necessary. I think we're getting too many and they need to be monitored. This will be dangerous for our national security.

11:05am Rep. Barber (D-AZ) begins his questions.
Q: I want to thank you for coming down to my district less than a month after you started. We have the most porous part of the border with only 13% of the border, but over 40% of the drugs seized in the country. My most important issue is border security, people are still unsafe on their land, we still have drugs coming in and illegal immigration, while decreasing, is still a problem. But my responsibility is to make sure we have the resources we need to get the jobs done. This also includes steps to protect our border and customs agents, and to make sure they have the resources they need to get the job done. I'm concerned about the proposed changes to overtime policy for border agents.

11:11am Rep. Miller (R-MI) begins her questions.
Q: We've been working very hard on a border bill that passed the full committee unanimously, but I'm one that doesn't agree with the Senate bill that passed. I hope we will pursue moving on a border security bill. You agree with the goal of establishing metrics, but your predecessor said that the term operational control was an antiquated term. The border control index has also been abandoned now by DHS. We must have metrics that the country and Congress can understand about what kind of control we have over the border.
A: In my conversations with border security experts they emphasize a risk based approach that is agile, that is not necessarily operational control. The risk based approach is cost effective and successful. H.R. 1417 defines an effectiveness rate in a certain way, but what we've said is that border security should be defined by looking at a number of things, not just at the percentage of people who are arrested or turned back while crossing the border. You have to look at the motives of the people crossing the border, the nature of the traffic and the quantity of the traffic. I've asked my staff to define further what is a secure border, I would urge us not to focus on a percentage which can miss certain key facts.
Q: We'll be sending you a letter about visa overstays and a report we're looking for from DHS on those.

11:28 Rep. O'Rourke (D-TX) begins his questions. [HIGHLIGHTS AILA PRIORITIES]
Q: The dominant perspective view on the border with Mexico is to see it as a threat and as a security operation to lock down, and while I understand that perspective, when we look at the facts we're spending $18 billion a year on border enforcement, we've doubled the number of border patrol officers, and net migration is negative. El Paso, my hometown, along with being on the border, is one of the safest cities in the world. As well as other border cities, including San Diego, that are among the safest in the country. I want to hear more about the opportunities at the border. In El Paso we have over 1 million pedestrian and auto crossers and $90 billion in U.S.-Mexico trade, which supports more than 400,000 jobs in Texas, and 6 million jobs in the entire United States. I know that the ports of entry in El Paso is understaffed as well as ports of entry around the country. What do you see as the opportunity at the border?
A: Part of my mission is to facilitate and expedite trade whether in the south or the north. The Canadians have talked to me about the bridge crossings in Michigan. In south Texas where I was a couple of week ago it was been stressed to me the importance of customs enforcement facilitating and supporting trade. That also depends on Congress funding at appropriate levels for customs plazas, etc. I want to work with you on that.
Q: Agreed, but even within the DHS budget I hope you will deploy those resources effectively. We must have oversight and accountability along the border. And we must have transparency. I would ask you to please release the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report. Unfortunately, we only know about the use of force incidents anecdotally. I hear it in my office about the lack of respect and even abuse as people cross the border. We need you to become more transparent and accountable as an agency, I think it's a major failing of the agency so far.
A: I agree generally with the importance of law enforcement being credible and transparent in the communities within which they operate-otherwise it undermines the entire mission.

11:33am Rep. Duncan (R-SC) begins his questions.
Q: Roughly 40% of illegal immigrants violated the national trust when they overstayed their visa. Roughly half of the illegals in the country overstayed their visa. This is low hanging fruit when it comes to immigration enforcement. ICE devotes less than 2% of its resources to tracking these people down, don't you think we should be doing more on visa overstays?
A: First of all, the 40% figure has worked into the narrative based on a report that was done some years ago and may not be correct. We need to prioritize removals based on public safety, national security threats and border security threats. If in the category of visa overstays there are those people then we should go after those people. We must correlate resources with our priorities.

11:44am Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT) begins his questions.
Q: I have concerns about your current chief of staff, Mr. Marrone. Did you conduct a background check on him?
A: I believe there was and I have known him for five years. I am glad that I hired him.

11:52am Rep. Swalwell (D-CA) begins his questions. [HIGHLIGHTS AILA PRIORITIES]
Q: Right now 72% of individuals removed were convicted of Level 1 or Level 2 offenses, I want to make sure that we're focusing on removing the most serious and violent offenders, and not breaking up families. Will you focus on more violent individuals when we remove individuals?
A: I am committed to a constant evaluation of our prosecution priorities.


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 14022548.