Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Confirmation of Jeh Johnson To be Secretary of Homeland Security

I am pleased to support the confirmation of Jeh Johnson to be the Secretary of Homeland Security.  Mr. Johnson’s distinguished career in public service, including his service as a Federal prosecutor and as General Counsel of the Department of Defense, will suit him well as he takes on this new and very challenging responsibility. I look forward to inviting Mr. Johnson to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing in the new year, which he has committed to do.  Mr. Johnson will oversee many issues within the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction, not the least of which is Federal immigration policy.  

I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Johnson recently and discuss some of the issues that have been of interest to me over the last several years.  I encouraged him to continue to support the exceptional work U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas has done to make USCIS a better, stronger agency.  In particular, I encouraged Mr. Johnson to build upon Director Mayorkas’ work to strengthen and improve the EB-5 Regional Center Program, which is a successful, job creating immigration program that has transformed parts of Vermont and other communities across the country.  I look forward to working with Mr. Johnson, and Director Mayorkas following his confirmation as Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, to continue the partnership the Senate Judiciary Committee developed with USCIS to make the improvements necessary to maintain the highest standards of integrity in this important program, and to sustain it as a significant economic engine for the United States. 

I relayed to Mr. Johnson my concerns about Border Patrol checkpoints in the interior of the country, like the one that the previous administration implemented and operated nearly 100 miles south of the Canadian border on Interstate 91 in Vermont.  Over the past several years, I have heard from many Vermonters who find the idea of a Federal checkpoint 100 miles from the Canadian border, deep into the state of Vermont, entirely inconsistent with Vermont values and an overbearing Federal presence that creates an environment susceptible to racial profiling and the needless harassment of law abiding citizens.  I continue to have serious questions about the effectiveness of checkpoints like these, especially when weighed against the significant intrusion into the privacy of Americans. 

I also discussed with Mr. Johnson my concerns related to the treatment of Americans returning to the United States, in particular the practice of CBP officials conducting warrantless searches of Americans’ persons and belongings, including conducting forensic searches of electronic devices.   These searches within the border zone are not subject to the usual protections provided by the Fourth Amendment to Americans.  Recent CBP activities have raised serious questions about whether Federal officials are circumventing the protections of the Fourth Amendment by conducting opportunistic searches on individuals when those officials know they will be reentering the United States.  As I wrote in a letter to the current Acting Secretary, such authority must be used with great restraint.  I look forward to continuing my discussions about these important issues with Mr. Johnson.

Finally, I will seek to work with Mr. Johnson to address the overbroad material support bar in our immigration law.  It has resulted in people, including vulnerable refugees, being unfairly barred from the United States based solely on de minimus commercial or social conduct that has negligible connection to the support of terrorism. One example involves an individual who sold flowers to members of a terrorist group, and is now considered to have provided “material support” to terrorism.  That simply does not make sense and must be changed.  As I have with his predecessors, I will urge Mr. Johnson to address this unjust situation as soon as possible after he takes office.  

I congratulate Jeh Johnson on his confirmation and look forward to working with him as Secretary of Homeland Security. 


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