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What Does Jeh Johnson’s Nomination as DHS Secretary Forebode for Immigration Practitioners?

Last Friday, October 18th, President Obama nominated Attorney Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security.  What does Jeh Johnson’s nomination to replace Janet Napolitano forebode for immigration practitioners in the U.S.? Perhaps only the best answers would come from those who know him well, but absent that, we’ll have to take a look at the plethora of details about him so far.

Mr. Johnson gave the following address in the White House Rose Garden accepting his nomination:

Thank you for the tremendous honor of this nomination and the trust you have placed in me to carry out this large and important responsibility as Secretary of Homeland Security.  I was not looking for this opportunity — I had left government at the end of last year and was settling back into private life and private law practice.  But when I received the call, I could not refuse it.

I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday, when that bright and beautiful day was — a day something like this — was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history.  I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, what can I do?  Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question.  I love this country.  I care about the safety of our people.  I believe in public service.  And I remain loyal to you, Mr. President.

If confirmed by the Senate, I promise all of my energy, focus, and ability toward the task of safeguarding our nation’s national and homeland security.


Mr. Johnson has a long career in private practice.  He’s a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.  In his private practice, he’s tried numerous civil and criminal cases, defending some of the largest companies in the U.S., Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, Armstrong World Industries, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Gillette.

In public service, he’s served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and the General Counsel for the Defense Department under President Obama’s first term.  As the General Counsel, he led the legal review and reform of Guantanamo Bay operations presented to and later adopted by Congress in 2009.  He’s been credited with also ramping up the drone program, reviving military commissions to try suspected terrorists, and repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.


On November 30, 2012, Mr. Johnson gave a speech at the Oxford University where he discussed the status and the future of military goals in combatting terrorism.  Are the contradictions in his speech a sign of his ability to straddle the fence on tough issues?

… For, in our efforts to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda, we cannot dismantle our laws and our values, too.

In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.”

I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.

At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.

Mr. Johnson believes it’s possible to think outside the box by targeting the source of what motivates terrorists:

Al Qaeda claims to represent the interests of all Muslims.  By word and deed, we must stand with the millions of people within the Muslim world who reject Al Qaeda as a marginalized, extreme and violent organization that does not represent the Muslim values of peace and brotherhood.

Though Mr. Johnson professes his following of Dr. Martin Luther King’s disciplines, he admits his shortcomings in authorizing the use of military force under his direction as General Counsel for the Department of Defense.


When it comes to issuing directives to Customs, Immigration Enforcement and to USCIS, will Mr. Johnson follow the lead of the President, or will he carve out a new path?  Will the number of immigrants being placed in removal proceedings continue to skyrocket even while the movement for immigration reform (and legalization) is espoused in speeches?

No doubt, as a skilled civil and criminal litigator, he’ll display a steady level of eloquence and stamina in public hearings, speeches and presentations, but can he take that charisma and inspire the staff to improve day-to-day operations?

One can only hope but only time will tell of Mr. Johnson will be confirmed.  What are your thoughts?  We’d love to get your opinion on what type of a DHS Secretary Mr. Johnson will be.