Jeh Johnson: ‘Syria has become a matter of homeland security’

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday said Westerners heading to fight in Syria’s civil war could pose a threat to the United States and that undocumented immigrants deserve a path to citizenship, issuing his first policy address since taking office in December.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, before being confirmed for his current role, enters a hearing room in front of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). (AP/Carolyn Kaster).
File: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, before being confirmed for his current role, enters a hearing room in front of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). (AP/Carolyn Kaster).

Speaking at the Wilson Center headquarters, Johnson covered a broad range of topics, from appropriate uses of force by Customs and Border Protection agents to declining worker morale at the Department of Homeland Security’s 22 agencies, which have some of the lowest worker-satisfaction ratings in the federal government.

Johnson said U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence officials know individuals from North America and Europe are heading to war-torn Syria, adding that “they will encounter radical, extremist influences” and possibly return to their home countries with the intent to do harm.

“Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” Johnson said.

The secretary also referred to the Boston Marathon bombings, saying: “We face threats from those who self-radicalize to violence, the so-called ‘lone wolf,’ who did not train at an al-Qaeda camp overseas or become part of an enemy force, but who may be inspired by radical, violent ideology to do harm to Americans.”

Johnson suggested Congress needs to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that would dedicate more resources toward border and port security, in addition to providing new options for some of the nation’s 11.5 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens.

“This is not rewarding people for breaking the law,” Johnson said. “It is giving them the opportunity to get right with the law. And it is far preferable to what we have now.”

Johnson also said Customs and Border Protection will soon publish its use of force policy publicly to help address concerns about violence against migrants who have confronted U.S. border officers, sometimes by throwing rocks. Agent-involved shootings have killed more than 20 people since 2010, according to a recent Washington Post report.

Discussing worker-morale issues, Johnson said he wants to “inject new energy into the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he is working with the White House to fill the agency’s many top-leadership vacancies, which some good-government experts have credited with contributing to the employee-satisfaction problem.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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