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Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was on Capitol Hill this week testifying in front of both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Early in Trump’s presidency, many hoped Kelly would turn out to be an “adult in the room” who might moderate Trump’s xenophobic radicalism. Four months in, it’s clear that he’s not.
Over and over this week, Kelly made false statements about immigration, detention, and deportation. It’s possible that Kelly doesn’t know anything about what actually goes on inside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies, and that he unquestioningly takes statistics and talking points given to him and parrots them to those who ask. It’s also possible that, when it comes to mass deportation, he is just as extreme as Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and approves of what his “unshackled” agents are doing. After all, now that they are allowed to pick up whoever they want wherever they want, the agents say their work is “fun”.
One of the most telling moments of the last two days came in response to a question from Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) about unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Noting that minors must be turned over to Health and Human Services, Kelly said, “this is a huge scam.” He continued:
Most of them know exactly what they’re doing. They come across, identify themselves. We’ll turn them over to HHS. They usually have in their pocket the name, phone number, and address of someone who’s already here.
Kelly is talking about children and teenagers who cross the border alone, escaping violence and gang threats from back home. They are scared young people who are seeking safety and family in America. It’s bad enough that Border Patrol agents reportedly are turning them away at the border (in violation of international law). Kelly apparently thinks that it’s a bad thing that children fleeing for their lives can be protected from violence and reunited with their family in the US. That doesn’t make him the adult in any room.
Kelly also had strong words about so-called “sanctuary cities.” In response to a question from Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA), he had this to say:
When mayors want to remove criminals, the best way to do this is to give ICE access to their jails. It’s inconceivable to me that public officials wouldn’t want to do this. For free, we take [the criminals] off their hands. When we don’t have access to jails, we have to go into the cities, which is dangerous for my officers. I don’t understand why these cities don’t want to do it.
John Kelly must not be a curious man, because resources abound for explaining why cities want to limit their cooperation with ICE. Such cities are safer, they respect the U.S. Constitution – in contrast to cities that deprive immigrants of due process – and they cultivate better relations between immigrants and local police. The goal is to make sure that immigrants aren’t afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses, which helps cops take serious criminals – native-born or foreign-born – off the streets. Those serious criminals who are immigrants are, in fact, turned over to ICE.
Trump is obsessed with and Kelly spent part of his testimony talking about the dangers of MS-13. Well, in safe cities that encourage immigrants to come forward to work with law enforcement, you see immigrants cooperating with police on investigations such as those against MS-13. When you don’t, you get lists of cases that have to be dropped, because immigrants are too afraid of deportation to help. Even sheriffs in Trump counties have been trying to explain this. Yet it remains “inconceivable” to Kelly why any city might want to take this route.
As a final point, mayors, judges, and lawyers have for months been telling the Trump Administration and Jeff Sessions that the latter have not made their definition of “sanctuary cities” clear, leaving many confused about what the Administration actually wants. John Kelly, apparently, is one of the confused. As he told the Senate Appropriations committee about sanctuary cities: “frankly I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what anyone out there know what it means.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:
When General Kelly was nominated to head DHS, we had hope that he would bring intelligence, balance and discipline to his new job. Unfortunately, our hopes have been dashed. He has turned out to be an expert at throwing sand in the faces of Congress and the public, good at defending his undisciplined agents, and excellent at advancing Trump’s mass deportation strategy. Once seen as the man who could restrain the worst impulses of Trump, Bannon, and Sessions, he is now seen as the chief defender of their nativism. As his boss would say, sad.