Johnson: Illegal immigration down because Trump rhetoric ‘scared off’ women, children

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday attributed the decrease in illegal immigration on the southern border to President Trump's rhetoric.

"Through his rhetoric, he scared off a lot of women and children in Central America who'd rather stay in their desperate circumstances or just migrate to Mexico and stop there," Johnson said on CNN's "New Day." "But these are really desperate women and children, women with babies in their arms, who are trying to flee the poverty and violence in the countries they left."

Johnson said the U.S. must enforce laws "in a humane manner consistent with our priorities."

Those priorities, he added, included public safety in the Obama administration.

"So I told our immigration enforcement personnel, go after the really bad guys, go after the convicted felons," Johnson said.

"And they did that, they were doing that.

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"And that's where I think the focus needs to be with the resources we have in immigration enforcement."

Johnson also said during the interview that the U.S. arrested and deported "lots of people" during his time as Department of Homeland Security chief.

"Including, frankly, a lot of desperate young women and children from Central America," he said. 

Johnson also said he spent "hours" with these people.

"When you enforce immigration laws, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror, look your own family in the eye, recall the women and children who are desperate to say, 'I did my best to enforce the law consistent with our priorities and consistent with our values,' " he said.

Johnson added that he hopes the Trump administration "does not lose sight of that."

"We've got to protect our borders. We've got to enforce the law," he said. "But we've got to do it in a humane way."