And how has he affected immigrant lives? A guide to Kelly’s history as inside the Trump Administration
Originally published April 2017, last updated January 2, 2019
After joining the Trump Administration on Day One, John F. Kelly was unceremoniously pushed out at the end of 2018 / beginning of 2019, after failing to rise above the White House’s chaos and infighting. The retired four-star Marine general started as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was promoted to White House Chief of Staff, and was initially seen as the “adult in the room.” His tenure in both roles, however, showed Kelly to be as extremist as his boss and a conduit for translating the Administration’s anti-immigrant extremism into disastrous policies. Kelly’s time in the White House should be remembered for his record of draconian and inhumane immigration enforcement (in which ICE arrests soared 40 percent between 2016 and 2017), his support for child separations, his cold shoulder toward refugees and asylum seekers, and his role as the “enabler in chief” for Trump’s radicalism.
Below is a record of how John Kelly fits in all too perfectly with the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant extremism:
What John Kelly did at the Department of Homeland Security
In six short months from January 20, 2017, till July 31 at DHS, Kelly:
- Released new deportation guidelines that sought to strip immigrants of privacy protections, enlist local police officers as enforcers, erect new detention facilities, discourage asylum seekers, and speed up deportations.
- Wanted to separate mothers and children at the border to “deter” immigrants from coming to the U.S.; this policy was deemed too inhumane in 2017 but was implemented in 2018 and still continues today.
- Accused refugees of trying to manipulate the system.
- Ordered ICE to portray immigrants as criminals to justify sweeping ICE raids across the country.
- Supported lifting polygraph test requirements for certain new CBP and ICE hires, despite a history of ICE and CBP abuse. Former officials from these agencies said this would compromise the integrity of those agencies.
- Renewed temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitians for only six months, even though living conditions in Haiti won’t be hospitable for years to come. DHS later ended TPS for Haitians with an 18-month delay despite popular pushback and urging by 19 attorneys general for a solution.
- Grossly mishandled his final ICE raid, in which 70% of immigrants detained were not even the original targets of the raid.
- Chaotically mishandled the Trump Administration’s Muslim ban, which led to travelers being stranded inside airports and outside the country; courts struck down multiple versions of the ban. “This is all on me,” Kelly, who supported the Muslim ban, testified.
Under Kelly’s watch, DHS:
- Began testing the family separation policy in El Paseo, Texas, separating an unknown number of children from their families
- Deported thousands of mothers and fathers with no criminal record, a 171 percent increase of non-criminal immigration arrests
- Conducted “silent raids” rounding up immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years and were following ICE’s rules for checking in annually
- Detained U.S. citizens as well as legal immigrants
- Deported immigrants captured by ICE under unscrupulous circumstances (e.g. targeted a worker who legally requested workers’ compensation for a broken leg)
- Violated ICE policy at “sensitive locations” including churches, schools, and courthouses, specifically allowing agents to arrest crime victims and witnesses at the latter
- Rejected asylum seekers at the southern border, violating international law
- Allowed ICE to conduct retaliatory raids on safe cities
- Detained one a Dreamer with DACA on false gang accusations and another DACA recipient for speaking out about her case
- Suspended Central American Minors (CAM) Program
- Reduced annual refugee admission into the United States to 50,000, down from 110,000. In 2018, after Kelly moved to the White House, annual refugee admissions were further slashed to 30,000.
- Created tougher asylum rules by removing reasonable doubt language for credible-fear interviews that would secure a hearing with a judge
- Detained asylum seekers indefinitely, even when they passed their credible-fear interviews
- Reclassified unaccompanied minor refugees as simply undocumented immigrants, allowing faster deportation through expedited removals
- Prosecuted parents of unaccompanied children, claiming they were involved with human trafficking
- Saw the death of 12 immigrants in detention in 2017, the highest total since 2009
- Allowed Border Patrol to aggressively broaden deportation enforcement in the interior U.S. and within the 100-mile border zone, including on buses and trains
What John Kelly did as White House Chief of Staff
As White House Chief of Staff from July 31, 2017 until the end of 2018, Kelly helped oversee the Trump Administration’s ongoing assault against immigrants. From trying to cancel DACA to the gutting of TPS to family speratation to the dramatic decrease in refugee admissions, Kelly cannot be separated from the disastrous anti-immigrant policies implemented under his watch. As Chief of Staff, Kelly:
- Repeatedly defended the family separation policy that continues as of this writing and has separated thousands of children from their families, saying the “name of the game is deterrence.”
- Supported close ally Kirstjen Nielsen to be his successor at DHS; Nielsen has been a rubber stamp for Kelly’s tough stance on immigration. Kelly repeatedly advocated for Nielsen to keep her job even after she lied to Congress about the Administration’s family separation policy.
- Took an active role in immigration policy that was highly unusual for a chief of staff, according to Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff. “This is abnormal. He’s been more partisan than almost any chief of staff I can think of,” Whipple wrote.
- Demanded immigration legislation that would have included billions in border wall funding, decreased legal immigration, and destroyed the ability of immigrants to reunite with family members.
- Helped kill the bipartisan DACA deal by making the phone call that ended immigration negotiations, and recommended against Trump signing a short-term extension of DACA approved by lawmakers.
- Tried to pressure acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s temporary protected status (TPS) decision for Honduras.
- Kelly acknowledged mishandling accusations about Rob Porter, a former White House staff secretary who resigned amid accusations of domestic violence by his two ex-wives. Kelly aggressively defended Porter, told him to “stay and fight” despite reportedly knowing about Porter’s domestic abuse history, and called him a “man of true integrity and honor” and a “friend, a confidante and a trusted professional” whom he was “proud to serve alongside.” As a Vox article noted, Kelly has a history of believing men over women.
Things John Kelly has said:
- Kelly told NPR in May of 2018 that undocumented immigrants are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society,” and that “they don’t have skills.”
- In the same NPR interview in May, Kelly also defended the family separation policy claiming that “children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”
- In February 2018, Kelly said eligible DACA applicants were “too lazy to get off their asses.”
- While Kelly has reportedly been responsible for purging some Trump Administration staffers, he’s allowed right-wing white nationalists like Stephen Miller to stay and thrive. [Kelly] “turns out to have been more hawkish that I might have expected. It’s a pleasant surprise,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director for the hard-line anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies.
- Kelly told Fox that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” he said, touching off sharp criticism on his stance on slavery.
- Kelly accused Central American refugees of manipulating the system and called unaccompanied minors fleeing violence a “huge scam.”
- Kelly said he wants to admit between 0 and 1 refugees into U.S.
- Kelly said he would “never” apologize for his false claim against U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). In October 2017, Rep. Wilson was in the car when Trump initiated an upsetting telephone with the grieving widow of La David T. Johnson, an Army sergeant who was killed in Niger. When Wilson criticized Trump for his comments on the call, Kelly claimed Wilson made self-aggrandizing comments. A video quickly proved Kelly’s claim against Rep. Wilson wrong, but Kelly never apologized.
- Kelly doesn’t think civilians should criticize the military.
- He said integrating women into the military would lead to lower standards and that Marines would die from the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
- Kelly said it was “inconceivable” why any city would want to be a safe city,” even though it’s well-documented that immigrant-friendly cities are associated with lower crime rates.
- Kelly told members of Congress to “shut up” if they didn’t like policies he was implementing. “If the laws are not good laws, then change them. Don’t call me, or Twitter or tweet, or go to the press.” This statement ignored the fact that Kelly has broad powers to act on immigration cases. And, when Congressional Democrats tried to change immigration laws when Kelly was Chief of Staff, he opposed those changes.
Quotes about John Kelly:
- U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Kelly is a “disgrace to the uniform he used to wear” and called for his resignation over his failure to act on DACA.
- Former Marine Corps officer Shawn Turner called upon Kelly to resign for failure to take action on domestic violence allegations against Rob Porter that Kelly knew about and defended. Citing Kelly’s “extraordinary lapse in judgement and moral courage,” callous indifference to his responsibility to do the right thing, betrayal of trust, and complete fabrication of the facts, Turner called for his immediate resignation.
- “Kelly has failed in almost every way you can fail as White House chief of staff. Even by his own narrow definition — he was not going to manage the president, just run the West Wing — that train is off the rails,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.” Whipple was quoted in the Boston Globe, which called for Kelly’s resignation due to his gross incompetence, failed crisis management, misrepresentation of reality, and insubordination.
- The Baltimore Sun called for Kelly’s resignation for committing the “cardinal sin” in the matter of Rob Porter for acting “wholly incompetently…and then misrepresenting to the public what he did and did not know.”
- Vox called upon Kelly to resign due to his lies, defense of a sexual abuser, and disrespect for Blacks, Latino Americans, and women.
- U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) called for Kelly’s resignation, saying he was “complicit” with Rob Porter, “couldn’t keep his lies straight,” and “he has no credibility.”
- National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt argued for Kelly to remove himself, and stated: “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly must resign…John Kelly has shown his true colors. He’s on Team ‘Grab Them By The Pussy,’ leaving women who are victimized by sexual violence to fend for themselves.”