DHS chief under Obama: Asylum seekers 'absolutely' should be deported after exhausting all appeals

Jeh Johnson, who led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during the Obama administration, told Hill.TV on Wednesday that migrants seeking asylum should “absolutely” be deported after exhausting all legal tools afforded to them.

"As long as they have exhausted their proceedings, as long as they’ve received due process, and they’ve had a fair and full opportunity to adjudicate their asylum their asylum claim, they should be deported if they are ordered deported,” Johnson said.

"On my watch, in three years, we deported, returned to remove something like a million people. And that’s a fundamental part of border security — we can’t have open borders, can’t have catch-and-release,” he added. "Once the process runs, people should be returned and repatriated to their home country, absolutely."

But Johnson emphasized that, unlike the Trump administration, former President Obama didn’t have a family separation policy for migrants arriving at the border.

“Were there from time to time individual instances where a child might have been separated from the adult with whom they crossed the border for reasons of safety or health? Probably,” he told Hill.TV. “But we did not have a policy of separating women from their kids.”

“I still have a visual image of mothers clinging to their babies at border patrol holding stations and I simply could not ask someone from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or the border patrol to take that child away,” Johnson said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy sparked national outrage last year. Under the policy, federal authorities separated migrant parents from their children at the border.

Trump later signed an executive order rescinding the policy, and the administration acknowledged that the practice impacted thousands of migrant children. According to a report from Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Inspector General's office in January, the number of children separated from a parent or guardian remains unknown.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) this month asked the administration for a meeting with all agency heads who have a say in immigration policies that resulted in the family separations.

"Many questions remain on this failed and cruel policy and it now appears that given this most recent ruling, DHS and HHS will once again need to work with nonprofit groups to help locate and identify possibly thousands of additional separated children," CHC leaders wrote in a letter to Trump.

—Tess Bonn