Homeland Security Secretary: Obama’s Immigration Relief Will Include Border Security Components

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Border security would likely be one of the components in President Obama’s widely expected executive action on immigration, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Wednesday.

Though Johnson said that he would not specify the details of Obama’s planned executive action to fill the void of congressional action, he did say the executive action would include a “set of comprehensive reforms, within our existing legal authorities, to fix our broken immigration system.” Many early reports on plans for Obama’s action suggest it could shield at least five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. But Johnson reiterated Tuesday that it will also emphasize reducing future border crossings and securing the border.

“I am satisfied that our reforms are within our existing legal authorities and they will address a number of things including border security,” Johnson said at a National Press Club event Wednesday morning. “The president is committed to border security. The president is committed to reducing illegal migration in the future. And so we will be announcing a set of comprehensive reforms, all within our existing legal authority to fix the broken immigration system.”

In response to a question about the recent closure of a family detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico, Johnson added that “maintaining capacity for the detention of adults” is “a critical component of border security.” He suggested that there could have been better access between lawyers and detainees, a recommendation that advocates have long sought for and even sued. He maintained that another family detention center in Dilley, Texas will open as expected. He added that “family unity is consistent with U.S. immigration policy. I believe in the sanctity of the family unit.”

Obama administration officials have confirmed few details about the executive action, though it’s now believed that his announcement would come Thursday. During a call with activist groups Tuesday, the White House sought to “temper expectations,” stating that Obama would likely not likely go as far as the Senate’s immigration reform bill. It’s unclear how broad the order would be, though it would likely grant deportation cover to parents of U.S. citizen children, but not to DREAMers, or undocumented youths brought to the country as children, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday. Senate Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Whitehouse (D-RI) also penned a letter to the president Tuesday urging him to consider including the parents of DREAMers.

Outside of Johnson’s event, immigration rights advocates held signs and chanted in solidarity with LGBT immigrant detainees. Joselyn Medeza of the advocacy group United We Dream was there because she wanted the administration to consider expanding immigration relief beyond the parents of children in the country legally. She told ThinkProgress, “The transgender and LGBT community continue to be placed in solidarity confinement [in immigration detention]. For the folks with HIV, they continue to be denied medical treatment… We hope to be included in the administration relief because we contribute to the community.” According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, there are about 267,000 undocumented LGBT individuals and those individuals have “significantly lower rates of parenthood and higher rates of victimization in our nation’s immigration enforcement system,” a MALDEF press release stated.