Homeland Security chief says ‘fresh start’ needed for deportation program

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday that a “fresh start” is needed for the controversial deportation program known as Secure Communities, offering another indication this week that the Obama administration will soon revise its immigration-enforcement priorities.

Johnson discussed his thoughts on the matter during an interview with PBS’s “NewsHour,” saying the program needs to be revised but not scrapped. 

Earlier this week, the secretary told police chiefs at a White House meeting that the Obama administration is likely to overhaul Secure Communities, which pairs local law-enforcement agencies with federal authorities to identify undocumented immigrants for removal.


Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci).

MORE: Obama administration likely to refocus deportation policy, police chiefs say 

Secure Communities started during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House, but it expanded under the current administration. Immigrant advocates have criticized the program, saying it targets undocumented immigrants who are arrested for minor offenses but have no prior criminal record other than living in the country illegally.

Johnson left open the possibility that the administration may address that concern by de-emphasizing deportations for those individuals. He said 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.”

Under that reasoning, the administration could de-emphasize enforcement against undocumented immigrants with minor offenses on their records while still going after those who have been involved with serious crime.

Johnson also discussed the Deferred Action policy, which protects individuals from deportation if their parents brought them to the United States before a certain age. He said he has thought about expanding the policy, but he signaled that the administration is wary about trying to sidestep Congress on the issue.

“They are the lawmakers,” he said. “Whatever we do in the executive branch, we have to do within the confines of existing law.” He added that he is still reviewing the matter.

Johnson acknowledged the concerns of critics who say the administration is too lax with its enforcement policies, saying his goal is to come up with a balanced plan that “encompasses all these points.”

For the full PBS interview, check out the video below:

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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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