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Did John Kelly try to save face over the deportation of a Honduras mother by returning Bob Casey’s calls at 6:30 am?
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) drew national attention to the deportation of a Honduran mother and child this week when he began live-tweeting their removal. “It’s urgent,” he tweeted at noon on Wednesday. “I just found out that a young child and mother who came to the US seeking refuge will be sent back to Honduras today.”
Twenty minutes later, Sen. Casey tweeted that he’d been able to reach White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, who promised to look into the matter and check back. He never did. Over the course of the next nine hours, Casey continued to tweet at and make calls to Preibus, DHS Secretary John Kelly, and Donald Trump, asking them to make a last-ditch effort to save the mother and her son. Casey didn’t hear back from any of them, and the mother and son were deported.
The family had come to the US seeking asylum in December 2015, after the mother had witnessed her cousin’s murder by a criminal gang. She said that gang members had threatened to harm her and her family, but she was denied judicial review of her case. After more than a year in detention, she and her son were driven to the airport Wednesday morning – even though there was a pending application open for her son’s special immigrant juvenile status. She and her son were escorted onto a flight bound for Honduras while her lawyers were still petitioning her case, and while Sen. Casey was trying to reach Trump Administration officials about allowing her to stay. The fact that she is back in Honduras now, Casey wrote, is a “potential death sentence.”
Thursday morning, John Kelly expressed offense at being bothered over such a trivial, life-or-death matter. Speaking at the Atlantic Council, he said he’d called Casey’s office several times but never heard back:
I say it over and over again: 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.
First of all, this is either a pretty lazy deferral of responsibility, or a quote from a man who doesn’t understand what his job entails. Secretary Kelly has the power to exercise discretion on deportations. When advocates tweet at or call him, we’re hoping that he’ll recognize that someone has too many ties to the US to be deported, or has done nothing to merit deportation – or has a pending asylum case open and should not be deported. But Kelly’s saying that he doesn’t care about stopping acts that may be unjust.
Furthermore, his claim that bad laws should just be changed is flippant. Just because a law has not been changed yet does not mean it’s just. Sen. Casey was in the Senate during the 2013 immigration reform legislative fight, and he voted for the bill. He did his job. Two-thirds of the Senate did. Heartbreakingly, that wasn’t enough to get the bill over the ultimate finish line, but it’s not like people didn’t try – very hard – to solve the issue.
But, even without a new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security has prosecutorial discretion — unless the White House and someone like Jeff Sessions, who wants full control over all immigration-related issues — have convinced him that he doesn’t have that power. One tweet from this week stuck out: Casey wrote “Just confirmed with
@DHSgov: only the White House can order this reversed now.” That sure makes it sound like the White House keeps Kelly on a very tight leash.
Finally, Casey’s office disputed the whole idea that Kelly tried to get in touch. As Jacklin Rhoads, a spokesperson for Casey, said that Kelly’s version of the facts was:
more than a little full of it … Our office gave Secretary Kelly’s team a direct office line, a cell and email where Senator Casey could be reached quickly. While this family was in crisis yesterday, Secretary Kelly did not call. Realizing that he would be asked by press this morning, it appears Secretary Kelly began calling our main office line at 6:30am this morning when any reasonable person would know that it isn’t going to pick up.
It’s unknown to us whether Kelly knew about the mother and son’s deportation at a time when something could’ve been done about it, or whether he tried to get in touch before 6:30am. It seems clear, however, that Kelly doesn’t want to do anything about cases like this week’s; it seems he’d prefer the culpability of sending a mother and child back into danger instead.