Obama’s DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson Acknowledges ‘Crisis’ at the Southern Border

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
March 30, 2019 Updated: March 30, 2019

Jeh Johnson, the former homeland security secretary during the Obama administration, said on several recent television appearances that there is a “crisis” at the Southern border, adding that the number of apprehensions has surpassed anything he had seen during his time as the department’s head.

“By anyone’s definition, by any measure, right now we have a crisis at our southern border,” Johnson said during an interview on Fox’s Cavuto LIVE on March 30.

“According to the commissioner of CBP, there were 4,000 apprehensions in one day alone this past week, and we’re on pace for 100,000 apprehensions on our southern border this month. That is by far a greater number than anything I saw on my watch in my three years as Secretary of Homeland Security,” he added.

The Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Kevin McAleenan, said during a press conference this week that federal agents caught 4,117 people who were either trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally or through a border crossing on March 26.

“Two weeks ago, I briefed the media and testified to Congress that our immigration system was at the breaking point,” he said. “That breaking point has arrived this week.”

Johnson shared similar remarks in another interview with MSNBC on March 29. He said, “I know that 1,000 [apprehensions] overwhelms the system, I cannot begin to imagine what 4,000 a day looks like. So we are truly in a crisis.”

The former homeland security secretary’s remarks follow President Donald Trump’s comments that he would close the southern border if Mexico does not stop immigrants from reaching the United States.

US-Mexico border traffic 1
Cars queue up in multiple lines as they wait to be inspected by U.S. border patrol officers to enter from Mexico into the U.S., at the San Ysidro point of entry, in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 29, 2019. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

“There’s a very good likelihood that I’ll be closing the border next week, and that will be just fine with me,” he said on March 29.

Trump reiterated this in a series of tweets on March 29. He said, “Mexico must stop illegals from entering the U.S through their country and our Southern Border. Mexico has for many years made a fortune off of the U.S., far greater than Border Costs.”

“If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week,” he added.


ICE and Border Patrol is currently facing major issues with overcrowding at their detention facilities. McAleenan explained that two-thirds of the inflow are children and families from Central America who are “almost guaranteed to be released to remain in the U.S. indefinitely” even though 85–90 percent of them will eventually have their asylum claim denied.

He said this is different from the high numbers in the 1990s and 2000s, as “last time we had crossings near this level, they were almost all adults from Mexico who could be swiftly repatriated.”

illegal aliens in El Paso
Hundreds of illegal immigrants are apprehended in Texas. Most are families and unaccompanied minors from Central America. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

In order to relieve overcrowding at many facilities, agents have started releasing illegal immigrants immediately upon apprehending and processing them, McAleenan said.

“For the first time in over a decade CBP is performing direct releases of migrants,” he said. “This is in a limited capacity, it’s very reluctantly, and it represents a negative outcome for enforcement.”

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the House Committee on Homeland Security that the border situation is “spiraling out of control.”

Epoch Times Photo
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Authorities and Resources Needed to Protect and Secure the United States,” on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 15, 2018. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

“In February, we saw a 30 percent jump over the previous month, with agents apprehending or encountering nearly 75,000 aliens,” she said. “This is an 80 percent increase over the same time last year. And I can report today that CBP is forecasting the problem will get even worse this spring as the weather warms up.”

She added that the CBP is on track to arrest almost 1 million illegal aliens at the border this year.

Former Obama Border Patrol Chief Shares Similar Views

Former Border Patrol chief in the Obama administration, Mark Morgan, shared similar views as Johnson, saying that there was an undeniable state of crisis at the border.

“It’s absolutely a national emergency,” Morgan told Fox Business’s “Mornings with Maria” on March 21. “What we are talking about right now is part of the continued catch and release. It’s a little bit different than before.”

He explained that previously anyone caught by border patrol agents would be turned over to ICE, who then releases them according to immigration policies. But now this does not happen because of overcrowding at border patrol and ICE detention facilities.

groups of illegal aliens
U.S. Border Patrol agents detained two large groups of illegal immigrants consisting of over 400 people within five minutes in the El Paso area on March 19, 2019. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

“Now, border patrol agents are having to release illegal aliens into the interior of the United States. They’re overwhelmed,” Morgan said, adding that after the illegal aliens are released “you never hear from them again.”

Morgan, who was also a former FBI agent, thinks loopholes in asylum laws and the incentives of being in the United States are generally to blame for the level of crisis.

“The intelligence will show you they’re not fleeing violence and persecution like a lot of the talking points,” he said. “Actually violence in Guatemala, [and] all Central American countries, are way down—homicide rates overall.”

He continued, “They’re coming for two reasons economic equality [and] family reunification. And they know because of our asylum laws, they step one foot on American soil, they’re allowed in never to be heard from again.”

The Epoch Times reporter Petr Svab contributed to this report.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.