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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday that President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration reflects the reality that no government will ever be able to deport the millions of illegal immigrants who have been living in the United States for years.
"This is an act of simple, common sense," Johnson said Monday during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. "The reality is that no president's administration – past, present or future, Republican or Democrat – is going to find and deport all these people."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (right) said Monday that President Obama's immigration order makes sense because it is impossible to deport all illegal immigrants.
Image: AP Photo/Will Weissert
"So, we want to encourage them to come out of the shadows, get on the books, and be accountable," he said.
Obama announced last month that he would protect up to 5 million illegal immigrants by deferring their deportation, and allowing many of them to apply for work permits. Obama has said the executive action formalizes decisions the government must make on immigration enforcement given a shortage of resources that prevents the government from fully enforcing the law.
"We must be smart in the use of our limited enforcement resources, and focus those resources on the removal of those who represent threats to public safety and national security," he said.
Obama's November announcement enraged many Republicans who say the government should first be focusing on border enforcement. But Johnson said Obama's policy change will strengthen border enforcement, because the new protections cannot be sought by anyone who enters the country after 2013.
"Those who came here illegally in the past, have been here for years, have committed no serious crimes, and have become integrated members of American life, are not priorities for removal," he said. "But, all those who came here illegally after Jan. 1, 2014, in other words, beginning of this year, are now priorities for removal to their home countries."
Republicans have said Obama's plan will send another signal to immigrants who will try to enter the country illegally, but Johnson said the 2013 cutoff date will show that "our border are not open to illegal migration."
To achieve that end, Johnson announced the administration was opening a new detention center in Dilley, Texas, and will more than triple the detention capacity space of another facility in New Mexico that will close soon. He also said DHS would launch a new border campaign aimed at better policing the border.
But he said Congress needs to take action to give DHS access to more funds, which it would use to maintain a higher resources at the border, which DHS has tried to do since the summer inflow of child immigrants. "We need to pay the bill for that surge, and keep those resources in place for the future," he said.
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