Transcript: Jeh Johnson on


The following is a transcript of an interview with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that aired Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: And now to the guest you heard the congressman talking about, Jeh Johnson. He served as homeland security secretary under former President Obama and he joins us this morning from New Jersey. Mr. Secretary, your policies are being endorsed here. I don’t know if you want to respond, though, to what the congressman said in terms of a stronger message needing to be sent by this administration, going to countries and showing that expelling of migrants is happening.

FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON: Well, thanks for having me on, Margaret. First, I know that following me is Professor Robert Pape, who will present some findings on his research. I’ve been a big proponent of his research now about the concerns around white nationalism for some time. And I urge your viewers to pay close attention to what Professor Pape has to say. Information- illegal immigration is an information sensitive phenomenon. It reacts sharply to information in the marketplace about perceived changes in enforcement policy on our southern border. This administration, I believe, unfairly, is perceived as lax on border enforcement. In fact, we are sending back over 100,000 people a month and have been for the last two years, over 2 million people. The lesson I learned managing this issue is you’ve got to repeat yourself maybe 25 times before anybody will listen to you. You have to show that we are, in fact, sending people back–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why isn’t that happening? 

FORMER SEC. JOHNSON: –and probably about as fast as- well, that’s a good question. My friendly advice to the current administration, DHS and the White House, is we have to continually stress that we are, in fact, with the machinery of government about as fast as we probably can, given the current legal construct and the resources we have, sending people back at well over 100,000 either expel expulsion or deportation. That’s a lot of people. Now, there’s a larger problem here that, frankly, we did not face when I was in office. We were dealing principally with the Northern Triangle countries Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. This problem has become hemispheric. In addition to those countries, you now have Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela who are not cooperating with us. Their countries are literally imploding and there is migration to the north and the south. Our- our Border Patrol capabilities, our resources are bigger than they were eight, seven years ago when I was in office. But they do struggle to keep up with this- with this crisis. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

FORMER SEC. JOHNSON: And from my point of view, we need to stress that we are, in fact, returning people as fast as we can.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when it comes to moving migrants around the country right now, you’re a lawyer. The federal government moves migrants from the border to other parts of this country quite often. What’s the difference when a state governor does it? Albeit, I know, without warning.

FORMER SEC. JOHNSON: Well, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that, Margaret. The wrong way is on 20 minutes notice to send people by bus or airplane to the Edgartown Airport or to mass [avenue] in front of the vice president’s residence without giving local resources, NGOs, shelter’s local government an opportunity to plan for how they intend to feed and clothe and house migrants. What the governors of Florida and Texas are doing, frankly, is a political stunt and treating people like livestock. The right way to move people to the interior, and I think it’s something that we should do, 8000 a day into McAllen into Henry Cuellar’s district in Laredo or El Paso, I’ve been saying for some time is not sustainable. And so we do need to move people to the interior. But through a well coordinated effort in coordination with NGOs, Catholic charities, state and local government and the federal government. There is a right way to do that. It requires coordination and cooperation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why isn’t that happening, I guess, is the question we keep coming back to. And as you’re saying, it’s becoming politicized. The Wall Street Journal had an op ed saying it’s hard to imagine a bigger spectacle of American political failure than the histrionics over migrants. They slammed Republicans for staging a political stunt. But they also say Democrats are just trying to deflect away from their own border policy failures. Is that a fair assessment, in your view?

FORMER SEC. JOHNSON: Frankly, Margaret, the politics currently are such that politicians, elected officials, find it more advantageous to simply scream at the other side and complain about how evil or lax the other side is. It does take political courage to come together and put together legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. It passed the Senate in 2013. It failed in the House in 2014. But that’s simply the only way we’re going to deal with this problem through guest worker programs, through stronger border security, through trying to address the problem at the source. It takes political courage, but right now, the politics of this issue are all wrong. And I’m afraid nothing’s getting done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but we have a crisis, so it requires action. Do you see a clear, coordinated planning or strategy from the White House that controls Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security and the people on the front lines of this?

FORMER SEC. JOHNSON: I know DHS is working very hard. They’ve they’ve they’ve ramped up the resources to deal with the- the influx at the southern border. It- it’s much larger. The ability to move larger volumes of people is much larger than it was seven or eight years ago. But there needs to be a more comprehensive federal, state, local, executive and legislative branch effort at this. And we can do this if we’re willing to cooperate, work together, exercise some political courage, have the governor of Texas willing to work with the governors of some northern states to- moving people in a more coordinated, cooperative fashion into the interior of our country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Johnson, thank you for your analysis this morning. Face the Nation. We’ll be right back. Stay with us.



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