Skewed Priorities in Homeland Security

By Dan Cadman on June 3, 2015

Toward the end of November last year, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a series of memos to initiate the president's "executive actions" on immigration — some of which are on hold due to federal court injunction, and all of which were destructive to a meaningful regimen of immigration controls and enforcement.

One of those memos ended the program known as Secure Communities, designed to provide to immigration agents, in near real-time, notice that aliens had been arrested by police for criminal offenses. Johnson directed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents initiate instead his "new and improved" program with the trivial and childish acronym PEP (Priority Enforcement Program), whose details were and are shrouded in mystery, and which have decidedly not filled ICE agents with much enthusiasm or pep.

In his memo, Johnson said, "[I] direct the assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs to formulate a plan and coordinate an effort to engage state and local governments about this and related changes to our enforcement policies. I am willing to personally participate in these discussions." (Emphasis added.)

He was as good as his word, and has spent a considerable amount of time, along with the latest ICE chief, Sarah Saldana, traveling the country trying to get buy-in from state and local communities, apparently without much success. Those horses left the barn a long time ago, in large measure because of the administration's actions in severing the umbilical cord of cooperation between ICE and its "law enforcement partners".

I wondered when the memo was issued whether Johnson's personal investment of time and energy was appropriate, given the onerous responsibilities of this cabinet chief, and the vast number of programs under his portfolio. Now we know the answer, and it is a resounding no.

Government red-team investigators have just reported the results of their inquiry into the effectiveness of screening by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at airports throughout the United States. In a shocking 67 out of 70 cases, these undercover investigators were successful in smuggling pseudo bombs and other offensive weapons and materials through the checkpoints.

Maybe if Johnson had spent a little more time really trying to make the country safe, such as focusing on airport security instead of aggressively pushing the Obama administration's agenda of dismantling effective immigration enforcement brick-by-brick, the results of this red-team exercise would have been vastly different. But he is too much a creature of the administration to do such a thing.

The outcome of the TSA failures report? The acting administrator has been pushed out and Johnson has ordered a series of procedural reforms, whose details are again shrouded in mystery. He, though, apparently retains the president's confidence. The administration has its priorities.