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Immigration czar: 11.5 illegals 'are not going away,' citizenship, not fences, the answer

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Immigration,Senate Republican Conference,Homeland Security,John Boehner,Border Security,House Republicans,Jeh Johnson

President Obama’s new Homeland Security boss dismissed the GOP’s focus on building a border fence with Mexico as the answer to the nation's illegal immigration problem and urged Congress to OK a “path to citizenship” because 11.5 million illegals “are not going away.”

In a major address to explain his agenda, Jeh Johnson on Friday also said that the government should shift from mass deportations to removing those who pose a national security threat. “We must prioritize our resources on those who represent threats to national security, public safety and border security,” he said in an address to the Wilson Center.

Despite broad GOP opposition to a comprehensive immigration reform, Johnson said that giving illegal immigrants a chance at U.S. citizenship is the solution.

“There are an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in this country. They are not going away. They are not going to ?self-deport.' Most have been here for years. Many have come here as children,” he said, in a knock at 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's deportation plan.

Instead, he said that illegals should be put in line behind others seeking U.S. citizenship.

“We should encourage these people to come out of the shadows of American society, pay taxes and fines, be held accountable, and be given the opportunity to get on a path to citizenship like others. This is not a special path to citizenship as I see it; it is an opportunity to get in line behind those who are here legally. This is not rewarding people for breaking the law; it is giving them the opportunity to get right with the law. And it is preferable to what we have now.”

And it's better than dumping more money on border fences, he said, explaining that high-tech is the answer.

“The answer is not simply to build longer or taller fences. As my predecessor used to say, show me a 50- foot fence and I will show you a 51-foot ladder. Border-control experts preach an intelligence-driven, risk-based approach that focuses resources on the places where our surveillance and intelligence tells us the threats to border security exist, and be prepared to move when the threat moves,” said Johnson.

His comments are not likely to push House and Senate GOP leaders to shift course and pursue immigration reform this year, ahead of the midterm elections.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.