Is Jeh Johnson Anti-Immigrant?

Is the President’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security anti-immigrant? The truth is that nobody knows.  Nobody has bothered to ask.


Here’s what we do know: Jeh Johnson comes from the Pentagon; he has little experience with the issue of immigration; and he favors legislative (as opposed to administrative) changes to the immigration system. What we don’t know is how Jeh Johnson will enforce immigration laws that everyone agrees are costly, impractical, and inhumane.


In some ways it’s a welcome turn to see the stigmatizing topic of national security delinked from status of undocumented immigrants. And certainly DHS encompasses far more than just the question of migration. But it is undeniable that the White House’s treatment of immigrants – it’s massive detention and deportation policies - are central to the country and the department today.


When President Obama tapped then Arizona governor Janet Napolitano in 2008, the administration brought that state’s drastic approach to the national level. Removal rates soared as local police were conscripted into efforts to meet the Obama administration’s politically motivated deportation quotas. But since Napolitano has left her post, the Secretary who bragged that she has deported more people than anyone else in history has changed her tune. Now in California, she lobbied in favor of the TRUST ACT, a state bill to stop the misguided policies she championed at the national level.


As Jeh Johnson seeks to replace Napolitano, burning questions about his perspective and intentions abound.


Whoever takes the reins of the Department will either continue the Arizonification of the country that Napolitano started or see it reversed (as she herself seems to endorse now that she’s out of office), so it is essential that any nominee face thorough inquiry and not rubberstamp support.


Hawkish Republicans have already submitted the questions they hold as a priority.  The fact that no such inquiry has come from reformers in the Senate is a cause for alarm. It’s also a symptom of the dilemma confronting supporters of the President who must also speak out against unjust immigration enforcement.


Johnson’s nomination is an opportunity to preview the direction for the Department and to gain clarity on various questions left unanswered by his predecessor.


Will the Administration’s deportation quota continue to guide immigration policy, or will it be eliminated as part of reform efforts? Will Johnson scrap the failed Secure Communities deportation program that has undermined public safety and imperiled civil rights?


How will the incoming Secretary bring enforcement operations into compliance with the Administration’s stated priorities and rhetoric? What would Johnson do to reign in rogue elements within ICE? 

Moreover, does Johnson agree that the President had the authority to create the deferred action for childhood arrivals program (DACA)? If so, what keeps him from expanding it to the maximum amount possible?  Finally, does Johnson favor a bizarre policy within the Marines and Navy that precludes immigrant families from enlisting?


Before his nomination vote comes up in the Senate, Johnson has the opportunity to make clear what we can expect. And reformers in the Senate have the duty to inquire into his position on key immigration policies. After a term and a half under Napolitano’s heavy hand, Johnson will be charged with repairing not just a department gone amok but a President’s credibility torn to shreds.

Essential Questions for the Homeland Security Nominee

The nomination of Jeh Johnson to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security and the controversial departure of his predecessor open the door for pivotal questions about the future of the government's largest agency, especially related to its approach to immigration.
Below are several essential questions for Mr. Johnson to answer before his appointment is accepted.

Read more: Essential Questions for the Homeland Security Nominee

Winning Immigration Reform or Winning Elections?

Perhaps never before has there been such a broad coalition and well-formed consensus on the need for inclusion of those who are undocumented in our country. Years of struggle, sacrifice, and unprecedented organizing have built momentum to force immigration onto the national agenda and Congress’ docket. Yet, even though legalization is inevitable, the outcome of its legislation is still and uncertain.

As frustration builds with the delay in Congress, more eyes are being cast to the President to take action on the issue. But pressure on the executive branch to use its authority is not a shift away from legislation or, as some have critiqued, a ‘giving up’ on it. First and foremost it is an overdue alleviation of unnecessary suffering. Secondly, it’s exactly the tactic needed to propel any legislation forward.

To pit campaigns for legislative reform and administrative relief against one another is a false choice. Successful social movements throughout history have always been defined by multiple forces, pushing on multiple fronts.

The civil rights movement that won legislation in 1964 first flooded the White House with pens in hopes that President Kennedy would sign an executive order addressing discrimination. It challenged local ordinances to make incremental gains, dramatize the lack of federal protections, and create a dilemma the nation was forced to address. The LGBTQ movement was known in the 80s for direct action as daring as taking over the evening news and more recently for local marriage equality campaigns and courtroom challenges to shift the national conversation in their direction.

In contrast, dominant beltway insiders have insisted on strictly one route to victory. We’re told that the President who will soon have deported 2 million people is our champion. And instead of urging him to use his authority and break the Congressional blockade, we’re redirected to solely focus on attacking the obstruction and extremism of the Republican Party.

Republicans’ racism is obviously intolerable, but the party that made no attempt at reform for immigrants when it had the Presidency and the majority of both chambers in Congress and has since administered unprecedented criminalization shares equal responsibility for the misery inflicted on immigrants. Worse, deflecting pressure from the President and Democrats who still have proactive options at their disposal actually takes away their incentive to use them in the debate.

A strategy that blames one and defends the other may be viable for Democrats seeking political gain, but not for immigrant communities seeking equality.

Given the history of political football between the parties, the Democrats ‘E’ for effort but ‘F’ for results attempts, and the President’s refusal to play his part begs the question for advocates: Are we playing to win reform or being played to win elections?

If the immigrant rights movement wants to achieve more than being another election year issue for politicians to stump on, it will require a diversity of tactics and dilemmas posed to friends and foes alike. 

Opening additional arenas in the struggle for immigrant rights and holding every stakeholder accountable is not giving up on reform. It’s playing to win.

State legislation to limit Secure Communities, like the TRUST Act, or to win drivers’ licenses both shrink the dragnet that takes away our loved ones. Courtroom challenges like the suit against Sheriff Baca’s detainer practices win new legal ground. Individual casework asserts the right to remain while we push for permanent solutions. Direct action that interrupts the deportation machine raises the political cost of inflicting suffering on our families and adds urgency to the debate. All of the above improve the landscape of the national conversation and do so from a position of strength.

Sensible politicians will be the first to say that pressure both helps at the bargaining table and is required to ensure they keep their eye on the ball.

As we work to protect our families, we need to also protect the historic momentum we’ve built from being squandered by those who may be more interested in their political careers than our family’s futures. The immigrant rights movement is too vibrant, too beautiful, and too resilient to be subordinated for any party’s reelection. The stakes are too high. Those who are pushing in every way are not ‘tone deaf’ as some might suggest. It’s the other way around. Anyone listening at all to “the field” will hear the cry loud and clear, not one more deportation. Not one more family separated. Not one more day of inaction. Not one more.

Marisa Franco is lead organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s #Not1More campaign.

44,000 can’t wait for immigration reform in Congress

For the 44,000 people expected to be expelled from the country during Congress’ August recess, immigration reform won’t come soon enough and executive action is already overdue.

While the end result of the immigration debate in Congress is uncertain when in session, we know that nothing will move while legislators are on vacation. Nothing, that is, other than the gears on the deportation machine that has been assembled and placed on overdrive under the Obama administration.

Read more: 44,000 can’t wait for immigration reform in Congress

Carlos Danger

When disgraced ex-Congressman turned mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner needed an alias to carry on his explicit online chats, he needed something that said: OK, so I’m a cartoon…but I’m a bad boycartoon. And so was born, Carlos Danger.

Last week, Univision’s Satcho Pretto had the unrepentant Weiner on her Despierta América morning show. Ten minutes into the interview, she finally asked what her viewers really wanted to know. “You picked the pseudo name Carlos Danger,” she said. “Why did you pick a Hispanic name?”

Then, working hard to keep from laughing, Pretto continued, “…and how dangerous were you really?”

It’s a question that’s asked regularly of the U.S.-Mexico border. Just how dangerous is it really?

Read more: Carlos Danger