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Homeland Security secretary: Border is tighter, but ‘new threats’ loom

WASHINGTON — The number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally has stopped growing for the first time since the 1980s, another sign of the success of border-security efforts, the head of Homeland Security said Thursday.

In a wide-ranging speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said illegal immigration is down, border security is up and the word is getting out to would-be border crossers.

“Put simply, it’s now much harder to cross our border and evade capture than it used to be, and people know that,” he said.

But Johnson added that the department “can and should do more to invest in the security of our borders.” And he said the agency needs to be vigilant about new threats that could be posed by homegrown extremists, like those who are leaving the U.S. to join foreign militants like ISIS.

“People who leave their own country … link up with some extreme elements and then return to this country,” Johnson said of Westerners who join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a militant Islamist army currently waging war in those countries.

“In many respects, that’s the terrorist threat that I worry most about because it’s the hardest to detect,” he said.