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Immigration 101: Who Is John Kelly And How Can He Decide the Fate of Millions of Immigrants?


Secretary John Kelly is the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the top immigration official in the Trump Administration. He is the person ultimately in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and other organizations under DHS.

These organizations handle detaining and deporting immigrants, processing and legalizing immigrants eligible for status, determining what happens to refugees and asylees, extending or not extending temporary protected status, and maintaining deferred action (DACA) as a program. Just about everything Donald Trump decides to implement in relation to immigration, immigrants, and immigration reform will be carried out by Sec. Kelly.

Trump campaigned on deporting only “bad hombres”, and John Kelly today continues to claim that his agencies are only targeting immigrants who are criminals and leaving regular, hardworking immigrants alone. But case after case after case we’ve seen this year shows this just isn’t true. And reports show that 38% more immigrants have been deported this year than this time last year – including 156% more immigrants without a criminal record.

Trump – and Kelly – are deporting mothers, fathers, neighbors, and community members who have done nothing wrong. John Kelly, when he was nominated, was called a “person of the highest integrity”. Now he is the face of Trump’s mass deportation agenda. And advocates won’t let up on Kelly for the pain that he’s brought to millions of immigrant families.

Deportations under Trump and Kelly

In the short months of the Trump Administration, here are some of the things that ICE and CBP under Kelly have done without Kelly showing any signs of reining them in:

  • Detained and deported thousands of mothers and fathers who have done nothing wrong and wouldn’t be considered priorities for deportation by anyone.
  • Raided USCIS offices where immigrants who were eligible for legalization were rounded up and put into deportation proceedings
  • Detained US citizens and legal immigrants, presumably based on racial profiling, ignoring them when told that they weren’t undocumented
  • Detained and put into deportation proceedings immigrants who came to ICE’s attention through questionable circumstances: one man was asked for his immigration status by a part-time metro transit officer; another was picked up after he was hit by a car while bicycling to work and police were called to the scene; another was detained after he rightfully asked his employer for workers’ compensation after breaking his leg.
  • Have repeatedly arrested immigrants at courthouses, despite judges asking them not to. They’ve also detained immigrants outside “sensitive” locations they’re supposed to avoid, including churches and schools.
  • Been caught conducting hazing rituals, one of which involved a “rape table”.
  • Been reported sexually abusing children crossing the border.
  • Reportedly turned away asylum seekers at the southern border, a violation of international law.
  • Detained and deported immigrants who showed up for check-ins. Immigrants who show up for check-ins are typically very low priorities for deportation, and are people whom ICE under previous Administrations saw fit to not Many of these immigrants have earned work permits, driver’s licenses, social security cards, and other markers of semi-legal status. Yet ICE under Trump and Kelly is now deporting them for checking in like they’re supposed to.
  • Conducted retaliatory moves; for example, ICE specifically targeted Austin, Texas for a series of raids just because their new sheriff refused to cooperate with ICE detainers.
  • Arrested immigrants without criminal records, violating local sanctuary city policies, when they were supposed to be going after gang members.
  • Kept a DACA-mented Dreamer in detention for over a month, accusing him of being a gang member when he wasn’t.

More about John Kelly

  • Called unaccompanied minors crossing the border a “huge scam” even though they are children fleeing gang wars and violence.
  • Said it was “inconceivable” why any city would want to be a so-called “sanctuary city” even though it’s well-documented that such cities are safer and more respectful of residents’ civil liberties.
  • Supports lifting polygraph test requirements for certain new CBP and ICE hires, even though former officials from these agencies have said that this would weaken the integrity of those agencies.
  • Renewed temporary protected status for Haitians for only 6 months, even though living conditions in Haiti won’t be hospitable for years to come
  • Suggested separating women and children at the border as a humanitarian move that would discourage families from coming at the first place; Kelly backed down from the idea after an uproar.
  • Has told members of Congress to “shut up” if they didn’t like policies he was implementing. He also said, “If the laws are not good laws, then change them. Don’t call me, or Twitter or tweet, or go to the press” — a comment ignores the fact that Congress would have passed immigration reform in 2013 were it not for House Republicans, and ignores the fact that Kelly has broad powers to act on immigration cases.

Read the latest on Sec. John Kelly and immigration here.