“They’re here, and they’re not going away,” Johnson said at the Woodrow Wilson Center in remarks billed by the Obama administration as his “first major speech.”
Johnson’s comment came after he gave his prepared address and was in response to Jane Harman, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, asking him about the fate of immigration reform in this session of Congress.
“In today’s press there is a new comment from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that it may not happen this year I think,” Harman said, “which is going to be a great disappointment to many communities across our country who were hoping it will and to our efforts to rebuild our economy after the most serious recession since the Great Depression.
“What can you do to persuade John Boehner that maybe he should – of steps he might take in this election year to get this thing back on the right track?” Harman asked. “Because he was one of the people who said he wanted to try to make this happen.”
“What I hope will happen in 2014 is that there is an emerging, evolving realization that this should not be politics, that this is a problem that we have in this country that needs to be fixed,” Johnson said. “And that those of us here in Washington who represent the American public ought to do what we need to do to fix the problem.”
Johnson said part of that problem is enforcing immigration law.
“Everybody agrees we have a problem with immigration, with enforcement
and administration of our immigration laws,” Johnson said. “Everybody knows we have millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, and they're not
“They're not going to self-deport,” Johnson said, adding that some 86 percent of illegal aliens “have been in the country for years.”
“So they're here, and they're not going away,” Johnson said. “From my Homeland Security perspective, I would rather encourage them to come forward, be accountable, pay whatever taxes and fines they owe.”
Johnson previously worked for the Obama administration as a lawyer in the Department of Defense before being nominated and confirmed as DHS secretary.