Is DHS Secretary “Bending the Facts”?

By FAIR, Special for  USDR

Speaking to an audience at Rice University last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson delivered a flagrantly misleading speech on the current state of illegal immigration in the U.S. (Johnson transcript).

Ironically, Secretary Johnson’s speech was entitled “Immigration: Perception Versus Reality”. However, far from separating fact from fiction, Johnson laced his speech with claims designed to convince his audience that illegal immigration is dropping dramatically and that Americans should support granting amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens currently in the  U.S.

Of all the claims Secretary Johnson made, perhaps the most egregious was that apprehensions reflect the level of illegal immigration. Johnson said, “Apprehensions on the southern border – which are a direct reflection of total attempts to cross the border illegally – have declined significantly over the last 15 years, and are a fraction of what they used to  be.”

This is false. Apprehensions measure only the number of aliens the Border Patrol physically catches, not those who have successfully crossed past the Border Patrol.  Indeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the administration’s sole use of apprehensions as a measure of border security, stating it only represents Border Patrol “activity” not “results.”  It noted that even studies commissioned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) document “that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal  activity.”

Even Johnson’s predecessor, Janet Napolitano, acknowledged that the number of apprehensions does not measure the number of people who illegally enter the U.S. During an exchange with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April of 2013, Napolitano acknowledged that apprehensions do not measure the number of people who evade the Border Patrol and are able to move into the  U.S.

It is also very easy to manipulate border apprehension statistics: Instruct Border Patrol agents to look the other way. That is precisely what Ronald Colburn, the former national deputy chief of the Border Patrol claims is occurring. Border Patrol agents are “sitting still at their desks, reading newspapers, playing video games on their government computers, because they’re not being tasked with work,” he  said.

Nevertheless, during his speech, Secretary Johnson persisted in misleading the public. Johnson stated, “[I]llegal migration into this country peaked in the year 2000, reflected by over 1.6 million apprehensions that year.” Johnson continued: “In fact, illegal migration into this country has dropped considerably since then, reflected by the decline in total apprehensions from 1.6 million in 2000 to around 400,000 a year in recent years. Last fiscal year the number of apprehensions on the southwest border was  479,371.”

This statement is egregiously false and misleading. First– as described above – the secretary is equating the number of apprehensions with the number of people illegally in the U.S., which is incorrect. And even if there were a correlation, Johnson conveniently forgets to tell his audience that apprehensions have actually increased over the past four years. Border Patrol apprehensions totaled 487,000 in FY 2014; 421,000 in FY 2013; 365,000 in FY 2012; and 340,000 in FY 2011. If apprehensions were indeed a measure of illegal immigration, then Secretary Johnson failed to mention that illegal immigration has grown steadily over the past four years of the Obama  administration.

Second, Johnson appallingly ignores data – data he actually presented in a different part of his speech that show the illegal alien population dramatically rising between 1990 and 2007. These data also show that the illegal alien population has remained virtually steady in the past five years (at about 11.5 million). Illegal immigration did not peak in 2000, as Secretary Johnson claims. In 2000, the estimated illegal alien population of the U.S. was 8.46 million, meaning that the number of people living here illegally has increased by 36  percent.

At the beginning of his speech at Rice University, Secretary Johnson promised transparency. He declared, “I am on a mission to separate fact from fiction about immigration in the public mind, and share more information.” Clearly, Secretary Johnson achieved none of these goals. To the contrary, his speech painted a misleading and incomplete picture of border security and the state of illegal immigration in the  U.S.


Founded in 1979, FAIR is the country’s largest immigration reform group.  With over 250,000 members nationwide, FAIR fights for immigration policies that serve national interests, not special interests. FAIR believes that immigration reform must enhance national security, improve the economy, protect jobs, preserve our environment, and establish a rule of law that is recognized and  enforced.

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