President Obama announced that Jeh Johnson, former Pentagon General Counsel, would be his appointee to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Johnson has participated in many of the Obama administration’s most infamous policies: he oversaw the legal justification for the drone assassination of an American citizen, the expanded use of Military Commissions instead of federal courts to try terrorism suspects, and has aggressively defended US surveillance activities and the related crackdown on whistleblowers.
The Associated Press speculated that Johnson’s appointment signals a turn away from immigration issues and a turn towards a terrorism-focused policy. Fox News suggested that it is “unclear” how Johnson’s appointment would affect DHS immigration policy, while Anita Sinha insightfully pointed out that appointing a Pentagon lawyer with a track record like Johnson could signal not a shift from immigration to terrorism, but instead to further militarization of immigration policy.
For the uninitiated, border security has entailed record level deportations, pretexts for domestic drone surveillance, police armored trucks, license-plate scanners, and expansive facial recognition surveillance cameras. Border security has also been cited to justify fencing the borders, in addition to widespread harassment and detention of Latino people, and in some cases, murders of unarmed individuals attempting to cross the border.
Border security has also been used to justify fusion centers, which coordinate with local and other federal law enforcement agencies to collect information on potentially political, racial, and ethnic affiliations of innocent Americans, and arbitrarily assigning levels of suspicion. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Senate immigration bill proposed in June would lead to far more militarization and criminalization.
Regardless of whether Johnson’s focus at DHS will be on “terrorism” or “immigration,” the current pattern reflects the fear of terrorism used to justify authoritarian immigration policies and to militarize the entire country. It reflects a perception of the US as a battlefield. Yet Johnson has also publicly raised the possibility of ending the “war on terror.”
Johnson has also made a baffling comparison of American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Good Samaritan helping the weary traveler, and a preposterous claim that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have approved of US foreign policy since 9/11. Let’s hope he doesn’t see the rest of us as weary travelers.