(CNSNews.com) - "We have to accept the fact that we have 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. "We have to deal with that. I don't think we should allow them to exist in a state of legal ambiguity or in a dark hole."
Johnson noted that some states now issue drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants, and he also mentioned that they can practice law in California. "So they're not going away. They're not going to self-deport. I would rather see us reckon with this population than continue in the state of legal ambiguity we're in right now."
"There is no legal ambiguity," Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told Johnson.
"These 11.4 million...they're not here in a lawful status, correct?" Collins asked.
"For the most part, that's correct," Johnson responded.
"No, no, are they here in a lawful status or not?" Collins pressed. "You can't have it both ways. If they're here in a legal status, then they're not undocumented...they're here legally, if they have some form of legal status."
Collins said there's nothing legally ambiguous about people who are undocumented and "not here properly. That's not a legal ambiguity," he insisted.
"I just don't think it's being very honest with the committee to say that there's legal ambiguity here. If there were, this would be a whole different discussion," Collins told Johnson.
But Johnson disagreed: "Sir, there is legal ambiguity in that they are here undocumented, but there are states that permit them to have driver's licenses. I consider that an ambiguous legal state. And we have to fix it. The system is broken. We're not going to deport 11-and-a-half million undocumented immigrants in this country. You and I both know that."
Johnson said he would "rather deal with this population, encourage them to be held accountable, encourage them to pay taxes, get on the books and get on an earned path to citizenship so that they go through the necessary background checks, they're in a position where they can work legally, and we reckon with this problem."
Collins asked Johnson if he would be willing to identify "any criminal alien released in Georgia since 2012 so I can provide appropriate oversight on behalf of the good citizens of my district."
"I believe we're in a position to do that, and I will do that, yes sir," Johnson said.