Speaking at the United States Conference of Mayors on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the approximately 11 million people who are in the country illegally have “earned the right to be citizens.”
“An earned path to citizenship for those currently present in this country is a matter of, in my view, homeland security to encourage people to come out from the shadows,” said Johnson, in what he remarked was one of his first public speeches since being confirmed as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief in December.
“It is also, frankly, in my judgment, a matter of who we are as Americans,” he said, “to offer the opportunity to those who want to be citizens, who’ve earned the right to be citizens, who are present in this country – many of whom came here as children – to have the opportunity that we all have to try to become American citizens.”
Johnson, who had earlier served as general counsel for the Department of Defense under Obama from 2009 to 2012, told the more than 270 mayors in attendance that enforcing immigration law was one of the main missions of DHS.
“The five core missions of the Department of Homeland Security are guarding against terrorism, securing our borders, enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, safeguarding cyberspace and critical infrastructure in partnership with the private sector, and supporting emergency preparedness and response efforts at every level,” Johnson said.
Then he concluded his remarks by calling for “comprehensive, common sense, immigration reform.”
“Common sense immigration reform is supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, businesses, and if the polls (are) to be believed, the majority of the American people,” Johnson said. “Border security is inseparable from homeland security.”
“And border security must and should be part of comprehensive immigration reform – protecting our borders, securing our ports, promoting the lawful flow of trade and travel through our ports to cities and other communities,” he said.
Johnson touted the alleged improvement in border security over the last four years and said comprehensive immigration reform also would increase that security.
“Comprehensive immigration reform would also promote a more effective and efficient system for enforcing our immigration laws, and should include an earned path to citizenship for the approximately 11-and-a-half-million undocumented immigrants present in this country, something like 86% of whom have been here almost 10 years,” Johnson said.
“An earned path to citizenship for those currently present in this country is a matter of, in my view, homeland security to encourage people to come out from the shadows, to be accountable, to participate in the American experience, the American society,” he said.
“It is also, frankly, in my judgment, a matter of who we are as Americans,” said Johnson. “To offer the opportunity to those who want to be citizens, who’ve earned the right to be citizens, who are present in this country – many of whom who came here as children – to have the opportunity that we all have to try to become American citizens.”
More immigrants facing deportation in immigration courts across the nation are having their court cases closed because of Obama’s prosecutorial discretion policy, researchers at Syracuse University found.
Meanwhile, the number of removal proceedings initiated in immigration courts by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has dropped since the new policy was implemented.
In fiscal 2013, immigration courts cited the exercise of “prosecutorial discretion” (PD) as the reason to dismiss 16,306 cases.
That is a 68 percent increase from the 9,684 cases that were tossed in 2012 for the same reason.
In total, from October 2011 when Obama’s discretion policy was implemented through December 2013, there were 28,983 PD-related closures in immigration courts across the U.S.
The number of deportations proceedings initiated in immigration courts by ICE has also dropped since Obama’s discretion policy was implemented.
In fiscal 2013, ICE initiated 190,277 removal proceedings in immigration courts, a 21 percent drop from the 239,504 in fiscal 2011, the year prior to the beginning of prosecutorial discretion.
Overall, the number of ICE removals has also dropped ten percent in 2013.
As a percentage of all cases closed, the number of prosecutorial discretion closures in court is also on the rise.
In fiscal 2013, 8.5 percent of all case closures were based on prosecutorial discretion, up from 4.7 percent the previous year.
Some immigration courts reported that prosecutorial discretion resulted in almost three out of every ten cases closed.
“The Seattle Court led the nation with 29.8 percent PD closures. The Tucson court was in second place with 26.0 percent PD closures, while the Los Angeles Court was third with 23.7 percent. Rounding out the top five were the Omaha Court at 23.1 percent and the Phoenix Court at 20.7 percent,” according to the Syracuse University analysis.
Houston saw one of the lowest percentages of case closures based on Obama’s policy.
Syracuse University researchers found that “Houston was at 1.7 percent PD closures, New York City 3.7 percent, Chicago 5.0 percent, and Miami 6.3 percent.”
The prosecutorial discretion closures mentioned in this report only refer to those cases that actually make it to court. Some immigration cases are dealt with administratively by the Obama administration.
John Morton, then-Obama’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director, first announced the prosecutorial discretion policy in an October 2011 memo.
The new policy directed immigration enforcement officials to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in deciding which illegal aliens to remove from the U.S.
According to the memo, the purpose of the policy was to remove the worst criminal offenders while allowing other aliens such as those who were brought into the country as children to remain in the country.
One purpose of the policy is to reduce a backlog of cases in immigration courts, according to the White House.
However, Syracuse University found that the policy is also being used to deal with new immigration court cases.
The White House has extended the use of prosecutorial discretion to immigration law violators who are military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.