Advocates have not been happy with DHS Secretary John Kelly and his blind implementation of Donald Trump’s mass deportation agenda. Neither are Senate Democrats, according to a new Huffington Post piece by Elise Foley. In January, 37 Senate Democrats voted to confirm Kelly. But what they thought they would get from him — a man of integrity who could lead and have thoughts independent of Trump — has not been the reality. As Elise Foley writes:
[Democrats’] hope was that the former Marine general would be a moderating influence on President Donald Trump and a better option than other names floated for the post. Kelly wasn’t known for being a virulent crusader against unauthorized immigration, and he had experience with Central and South America as former head of the U.S. Southern Command. He said in his confirmation hearing that he opposed a registry based on ethnicity or religion, which Trump once floated for Muslims.
Four months later, some of the Senate Democrats who voted for Kelly are exasperated, disappointed and, in some cases, even wondering if they made a mistake. Arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants are up significantly, plans for a border wall are underway, and Kelly has joined Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in framing immigration almost exclusively in terms of crime. He defended the now-blocked ban on refugees and most travelers from several Muslim-majority nations and joked with Trump about using a saber “on the press.”
“I think the secretary has gone above and beyond even what the president’s dictates are and I’m disappointed in the way he’s acted,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who supported Kelly’s confirmation, told HuffPost.
The senator said he wouldn’t vote for Kelly if he had the chance now.
John Kelly and the power of discretion on immigration
The problem with Kelly is that he either doesn’t understand his job at all — or he’s turning out to be an anti-immigrant extremist just like Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. As head of the Department of Homeland Security, the buck stops with Kelly on all individual deportations cases. Kelly could make it clear to his agents that they shouldn’t put certain immigrants into deportation proceedings, or he could stop individual deportations — as Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) begged Kelly to do last month for a mother and child seeking asylum. (Kelly didn’t respond until it was too late.)
Kelly could realize that Trump’s mass deportation agenda is impractical and inhumane, that mass deportations will make American communities less safe, that immigrant mothers and fathers who have lived and worked in the US for decades don’t deserve to be separated from their families — and do something about it.
Unfortunately, all of Kelly’s comments have trended in the opposite direction. He regularly speaks about how his agents only target immigrants who have committed crimes — which is false, as ICE and CBP have targeted just about everyone, and underlines the fact that Kelly won’t even acknowledge the problem. In April, he told lawmakers who disagreed with him to “shut up“. He’s said that :
If the laws are not good laws, then change them. Don’t call me, or Twitter or tweet, or go to the press with outrageous stories about how we do business or why we’re deporting somebody.
But all of this again, is ignoring Kelly’s powers of discretion. He’s pretending it’s entirely up to Congress, and not him, to do something about Trump’s mass deportations. The truth is that Kelly has the power to curb Trump’s extremism on immigration — and potentially millions of deportations will be hung around Kelly’s neck if he refuses to act.
Democrats, advocates: Kelly must lead
Elise Foley’s article quotes a number of Democrats and advocates who agree:
Sen Bob. Casey (D-PA): “When you talk to Secretary Kelly, he says he’s just following order[s] but he was confirmed to lead, not just to go along with some wrongheaded immigration approach that was cooked up during the campaign.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL): “There have been no indications of compassion, expertise, or cooperation coming from the DHS Secretary or his senior staff. DHS seems to wish Congress would just go away and stop asking them about what they are doing and why, which is not an option.”
Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro of the National Council of La Raza: “There was a sense that perhaps given his experience he would bring a more tempered approach to the issue of immigration and immigration enforcement. I think that based on what we’ve seen, now the question is whether he is a helpless executioner or a willing one of what are, at the very least, ethically questionable policies.”
AV’s Frank Sharry has been calling out Kelly for his failed leadership for months. In April, Frank stated:
We had high hopes for you, General Kelly. You were supposed to be one of the “adults in the room.” But as a public servant, the combination of misdirected anger and persistent mischaracterizations call into question your suitability for the job you hold.
That was true then and is becoming more evident every day.