New DHS Chief, Congress: Homeland Security should focus on border security

By Stephanie Haines -- Medill News Service  |  Feb. 26, 2014 at 5:41 PM
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Feb. 26, 2014 WASHINGTON -- New Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Wednesday agreed with members of a congressional committee that his agency needs to focus more on border security.

The House Homeland Security Committee hosted Johnson, who became the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 23., to hear his plans for the future of the department. The hearing was held on the 21st anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, beginning the war on terror, said Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

“I agree with the goal of establishing metrics for what constitutes border security, I agree with that goal, and we are working towards that goal right now and we are working towards something we can share with Congress,” Johnson said.

“When I was at the southwest border and I talked to the border security experts about border security, they emphasized to me an approach that is agile, with an emphasis on surveillance, with an emphasis on mobility so we can follow threats as they exist and so we can follow the trends in illegal migration as they arise,” he added.

The former Department of Defense general counsel said he is focused on a risk-based approach that considers motives, the nature of the border crossers and the quantity of traffic.

“One thing that strikes me about the southwest border in particular is that almost everyone who crosses the border illegally has paid money to a smuggling organization, is being trafficked so to speak,” Johnson said. “I think the key is to attack the network in some way.”

He supported comprehensive immigration reform.

“If there is a bill about immigration, I will support it,” Johnson said. “The congressional and executive branches owe it to the American people to get this done.”

But Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., told Johnson that amnesty for undocumented immigrants isn’t a way to rein in illegal border crossings.

“You claim that so called comprehensive immigration reform is a matter of homeland security,” Broun said. “However, as we’ve seen in the past, amnesty simply does not work. We need to abide by the laws on the books. And we need to secure the border before any conversation on any broad reforms….Promising amnesty seems to encourage, not discourage, entry into this country.”

Committee members questioned Johnson on other homeland security issues like increased screening for air travelers from foreign destinations, visa overstays and so-called lone-wolf terrorism, when the terrorist is not part of an established group like al-Qaida.

“I am also concerned about those who self-radicalize,” Johnson said. “And I think you share that concern about the so-called lone-wolf. I think the Boston Marathon bombing may be a sign of the future.”

Johnson said self-radicalizing threats may be more difficult to detect.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, interrogated Johnson about his nomination of Christian Marrone as his chief of staff. Marrone previously worked as an aide to a Pennsylvania state senator who was convicted on corruption charges.

“I hired him to be our chief of staff because of his organizational and administrative skills, and since he has come to DHS my expectations of him have in fact exceeded,” Johnson said.

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