Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson: The Reasons Why Migrants Leave Central America Will Overwhelm Whatever Defense We Put on the Border

( – Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday that it’s difficult to repatriate migrants to countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, that have little or no diplomatic relationship with the United States and that refuse to take migrants back.

“The problem is much bigger now than it was seven, eight years ago. Smugglers are better able at moving larger numbers of migrants,” the former DHS secretary told “CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera.”

“We see caravans, in addition, we’re now seeing migrants from Nicaragua, from Cuba, from Venezuela, countries with whom we have little or no diplomatic relationship, so it’s very, very difficult to repatriate migrants to a country that refuses to take them back,” he said.

“So the hard lesson I learned from all of this, Ana, dealing with this problem, the push factors, the reasons why families, women, children, fathers, leave Central America, leave Venezuela, Nicaragua in the first place,” Johnson said. “It will overwhelm whatever defense we can put up on our southern border. 

“They’re making the basic choice I’m better off in the United States even if it’s only for a few years while my asylum claim is pending than I am if I stay where I am right now, and that’s why we can, you know, put up, as you referred to them as Band-aid solutions, but the longer term issue is the underlying situations in these countries, and I know President Biden understands that,” he said.


“I’ve traveled with him to Central America when he was vice president and I was secretary, he understands this problem, and it takes a sustained effort by multiple administrations to really address this,” Johnson said.

When asked what message he would communicate to the White House if he were leading DHS right now, Johnson said, “Well, a couple things. Comprehensive immigration reform, which includes smart border security, which includes the ability to adjudicate asylum claims a lot faster. Right now it’s somewhere between two and six years. I’ve heard the numbers all over the place.

There’s a backlog of more than 2 million asylum claim cases, host Ana Cabrera noted.

“When you see numbers like 200,000 a month. There will be a backlog, and comprehensive immigration reform in my view must also codify into law the DACA program. We have people who have grown up in this country, who were brought here as children, who are de facto Americans who are in some of our nation’s leading law schools for example,” Johnson said.

“There’s an associate at my law firm, who is a DACA recipient and they have a very uncertain future so whatever reform Congress can enact has to encompass that. The problem, however, as you well know, is immigration is a politically volatile issue, and politicians find it easier to just simply scream at the other side and call them evil. Therefore, nothing gets done, and this problem persists,” he said.

Johnson said that the problem won’t be solved with Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as Remain in Mexico, is that Mexico has to agree to it.

“The problem with simply invoking Migration Protection Protocols, it takes two countries to do that. Simply sending people back to Mexico requires the cooperation of Mexico. It’s a huge burden on their resources. When it comes to Title 42, there’s a lot of litigation about Title 42,” he said.

“We as a government really do need to wean ourself off this authority. It is an emergency authority of the CDC, but there needs to be something to replace it obviously. When you have migrants coming in these numbers, we need to send a stronger enforcement message to Central America,” Johnson said.

“I learned this in office. You have to repeat yourself multiple times. There’s a right way and wrong way to come here. If you come here the wrong way we’ll send you back consistent with our laws and values,” he said.

When asked whether President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should be more out front and directly addressing the border crisis, Johnson said, “I know Secretary Mayorkas talks about this. The issue is, you’ve got to repeat yourself over and over and over again before the press and the public start paying attention to the message.”


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