Transcript: Jeh Johnson on "Face the Nation"
The following is a transcript of an interview with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that aired Sunday, April 10, 2022, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: As we enter peak migration season, the CDC is planning to lift Title 42. That's a pandemic era policy that restricts asylum seeking migrants, potentially causing a huge surge at the border. For more, we turn to Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. Good morning to you.
JEH JOHNSON: Good morning, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When we hear from the administration that they could see as many as 18,000 migrants per day crossing that border, it seems incredible. Senate Democrats have said the administration is not prepared. Do you think they are?
JOHNSON: MARGARET, I'm told by DHS officials, the department I once ran, that they are making preparations, that they are prepared, that there are resources, transportation in place for this-this level of-of migration on our southern border. This did very- Without a doubt these are large numbers. DHS, I believe, has learned lessons from the past and surges in the past, including when I was in office. But still, numbers at these level are difficult to handle on the southern border communities on the southern border, Catholic Charities that volunteers, difficult to absorb these types of numbers. Under almost any scenario, it's challenging for the Border Patrol, for ICE, to properly process and track these individuals. And obviously, the Biden administration is paying a political cost.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
JOHNSON: So, my recommendation would be that, and I know President Biden believes this, we have to address the underlying causes in Central America for these types of surges. And I was pleased that in this year's budget proposal, there is a billion dollars to try to address this. We began this in the Obama administration, and we need to keep at it through successive administrations.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. And that's a long-term solution. But, I mean, when it comes to how the Biden administration planned for this- this pandemic era restriction, Title 42, it's getting peeled back May 23rd. It coincides with the peak migration season. Why wasn't there any coordination within the administration to maybe, I don't know, push it a few months?
JOHNSON: Well, Margaret, I'm no longer at the table. I'm no longer in the Situation Room part of these discussions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you would have tried to coordinate it, wouldn't you?
JOHNSON: Well, I would have argued that, first of all, there obviously is a recognition that this is an extraordinary authority. It's a public health authority in the event of a communicable disease. It had to end some time. The courts were becoming increasingly skeptical. I would have argued that we should keep it in place just a little while longer until perhaps July, when these numbers do tend to slow down in the hotter weather. You're correct, that March, April, May tend to be the peak seasons for migration on our southern border. And so DHS will have a challenge. And I heard the current secretary the other day say at present they have something like 7,000 a day. That's a-that's a high number.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned the political problem this has caused for the administration. There's a bipartisan group of senators now trying to delay the administration's plan to lift this by about 60 days until after the surgeon general rescinds the COVID public health emergency. Does this sound like a reasonable compromise? Is this something you would endorse?
JOHNSON: Well, Margaret, legally, I don't know that a compromise is achievable. Section 265 of Title 42 is a CDC authority. It's up to the CDC to invoke it or suspend it. That's the way the law reads. So if in the judgment of the CDC director, the public health authority, should that this extraordinary authority should be lifted. That is that is her prerogative, hopefully in consultation in the interagency process with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that DHS is ready to handle these numbers. Again, I would have argued that we keep it in place just a little longer through the summer until the numbers tend to trail off.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should there be vaccination at the border that is mandated? I mean, foreign travelers to the United States who land in an airport have to show proof of it.
JOHNSON: I think that is something that should be considered. There are obviously huge challenges to trying to achieve that with this volume of people. But it's something that should be considered.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned going back to addressing root causes. Both President Biden and Vice President Harris last year also publicly called for migration to slow. I want to play for you what they said in 2021.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So why haven't we heard anything like that now? Is it because the administration took so much heat from progressive Democrats?
JOHNSON: MARGARET, I can only tell you about my own experience dealing with this very, very difficult issue. I have learned that you have to repeat a message dozens and dozens of times before people actually do begin to-to hear it. The longer term lesson, however, is that migration is a market sensitive phenomenon. It reacts sharply to news in the information marketplace about enhanced enforcement, decreased enforcement on our southern border. We can repeat these messages over and over again, and we should. But as long as the underlying conditions exist, the poverty, violence in Central America exist, the numbers are going to always revert back to their longer-term trend lines. There is no level of defense that can counteract the powerful push factors in Central America. That's something that I know President Biden believes in. We discussed it extensively when he was vice president, and I was secretary of homeland security.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Jeh Johnson. Good to have you back on the program. We'll be right back.