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Ex-DHS leader: ‘Broken’ US system a ‘magnet’ for migrants

(NewsNation) — Apprehensions at the southern U.S. border hit a record high of 2.3 million last fiscal year, and this year have already topped 1 million, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served in the Obama administration, says to stem the flow of migration on a long-term basis, Congress must seek comprehensive immigration reform.

“There are aspects of our broken system that serve as magnets for illegal immigration,” he said Wednesday on “Elizabeth Vargas Reports.”

Johnson served in the post from 2013-2017, when yearly encounters were roughly 400,000 per year. That number has now quadrupled, topping 1.7 million in fiscal year 2021 and 2.3 million in fiscal year 2022. In 2020, there were roughly 458,000 encounters.

The Biden administration, and in particular current Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have been under intense scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats over the historic numbers. Mayorkas has testified to Congress multiple times that the southern border is “secure,” drawing ire from legislators who disagree.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recently called Mayorkas incompetent, and multiple lawmakers have called on him to resign.

“In my judgment, it is a crisis,” Johnson said. “I said four years ago when numbers were at about 4,000 a day during the Trump administration that that was a crisis.”

Johnson specifically zeroed in on the asylum system, which often takes years to process applications.

“On the front end, the bar to establish what we call credible fear is relatively low, but the ultimate bar to obtain asylum in this country is much higher, and in between are years for the process to play itself out,” Johnson said. “Migrants know that when they come here, and so the backlog in the system is itself a magnet for migration.”

The rapid increase in the number of migrants seeking asylum has also strained border communities. The governors of Texas and Arizona last year began busing migrants north to cities including New York City and Chicago, while Florida put migrants on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey went so far as to build portions of a border wall using shipping containers, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has put more state law enforcement resources to use to catch human smugglers and drug traffickers.

While heightened enforcement can help, Johnson argues the United States must focus on the cause, rather than the effect.

“We can do things on our southern border to enhance enforcement … but as long as the underlying push factors persist in these source countries, as long as it is as bad as it is — poverty, violence, corruption — they’re going to keep coming,” he said.

Comprehensive immigration reform has eluded Congress for years. A last-minute deal put together by a bipartisan group of senators just before year’s end died before it even got out of the starting gate.

In today’s political climate, Johnson isn’t optimistic about reform happening.

“There are no political incentives for those in Congress to come together, compromise, work across the aisle and craft comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “We almost had it 10, nine years ago, but it slipped away.”

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