(CNSNews.com) - Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson carefully avoided answering multiple questions about the deportation of some 50,000 children who have come to this country illegally from Central America so far this year.
"We have to do right by the children," Johnson said. "I have personally encountered enough of them to know that we have to do right by the children, but at the end of the day, in the final analysis, our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will stem the tide."
It took Johnson several minutes to arrive at the suggestion that many of the unaccompanied minors flooding into the United States will never leave here.
"Are you prepared to deport these children?" NBC's David Gregory asked Johnson near the beginning of the interview. Here's how it went from there:
"Our message to those who come here illegally -- our border is not open to illegal migration, and we are taking a number of steps to address it, including turning people around faster," Johnson responded. "We've already dramatically reduced the turnaround time, the deportation time, for the adults." Johnson also said the administration is asking Congress for more money to "bring on additional capacity," and he said the administration is "cracking down" on the smugglers.
Should the children be deported? Gregory asked him again.
Johnson replied that the law requires unaccompanied children to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, and for deportation proceedings to begin. He said those proceedings "can take some time, and so we're looking at options, added flexibility to deal with the children in particular, but in a humanitarian and fair way --
"It sounds like a very careful response," Gregory told Johnson. " Are they going to be deported or not?"
"There is a deportation proceeding that is commenced against illegal migrants, including children. We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular, consistent with our laws and our values."
"I'm trying to get an answer to will most of them end up staying, in your judgment?" Gregory asked again.
"I think we need to find more efficient, effective ways to turn this tide around generally, and we've already begun to do that," Johnson dodged.
"Very quickly, what does that mean? Are you saying it's impractical to deport all of them who are here now?" Gregory asked.
"I'm saying that we've already -- we've already dramatically reduced the turnaround time for the adults, and we're in the process of doing that for the adults with the kids. We're looking at additional options for the kids in particular."
"To deport them or to settle them here in America?" Gregory asked.
"The goal of the administration is to stem the tide and send the message unequivocally that if you come now, you will turned around," Johnson said.
"What about the thousands of children who are here now? What is the goal of the administration? To settle them in America or to deport them back to situations that might be even life-threatening?" Gregory asked.
"There is a deportation proceeding pending against everyone who comes into this country illegally and is apprehended at the border," Johnson said.
(The problem is, many illegal immigrants who blend into the greater U.S. population never show up for their deportation hearings.)
Johnson told NBC the reason for the influx of unaccompanied minors is the violence in Central America and disinformation spread by human smugglers about "free passes" into the United States.
"I believe we're going to stem this tide," he repeated several times.
Asked if President Obama should visit one of the overwhelmed Border Patrol stations when he goes to Texas for three fund-raisers this week, Johnson said, "The president can't be every place he'd like to be or even should be."
Also appearing on "Meet the Press," Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, disputed Johnson's statement that children are coming here mainly to flee violence back home.
"The reality is that the violence has existed in these Central American countries for a long period of time," Labrador said. "The level of poverty has existed in these countries for a long period of time."
Labrador said the reason for the influx is President Obama's decision to implement a policy that defers deportation for certain people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. "And as soon as the administration in 2012 decided to do DACA, which is the deferred action program, that's when the number of children started moving up, and that's because these criminal cartels in ...Central and South America decided to start advertising that there was a free pass."
Labrador called for the immediate deportation of the families and children who are arriving here. He said the frustration people are seeing in places like Murrieta, California stems from the perception that the Obama administration is "doing nothing about border security."