Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says he’s not sure if any foreigners who intend to do harm have been allowed into the U.S. since a federal judge blocked the government from carrying out President Donald Trump’s travel ban. (Feb. 7) AP
WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday that he should have delayed the implementation of President Trump’s temporary travel ban on immigrants and refugees for at least a day or two to tell congressional leaders what was about to happen.
He also told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that it will not be possible to build a 2,000-mile-long wall along the U.S.-Mexico border quickly and that he will focus on erecting sections of see-through fencing in areas where Customs and Border Protection officials say it is needed most.
Kelly, in his first testimony before Congress since being confirmed on Jan. 20, promised to work more closely with congressional leaders before taking action to execute an executive order as dramatic as Trump’s travel ban. The president’s executive order imposed a 120-day ban on refugees entering the U.S. and a 90-day ban on most citizens of Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. It also indefinitely barred any Syrians from entering the U.S.
“In retrospect, I should have delayed it just a bit to talk to congressional leaders to prepare them for what was coming,” Kelly said.
He later added, “Lesson learned, on me, I should have slowed it down by a day, maybe two.” He also said he probably shouldn’t have executed the order on a Friday afternoon.
“Going forward, I would certainly have taken some time to inform the Congress, and that’s something I’ll do in the future,” Kelly said.
However, Kelly defended the goals of the temporary travel ban, which he referred to as a “pause” to allow his department to ensure that people coming from the seven predominantly Muslim nations have been properly vetted and that terrorists are not slipping into the U.S. by pretending to be refugees.
“It is our duty to protect out citizens from terrorists,” Kelly said, adding that he believes the order will survive court challenges. “We believe it is lawful and constitutional.”
The order was blocked by U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle on Friday while court challenges continue to play out. The Trump administration appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco to reinstate the travel ban while the case progresses.
Kelly also made it clear that Americans should not expect what Trump has called a “big beautiful” wall to be built quickly on the Southwest border. In fact, that wall may end up being sections of fencing to plug the most glaring gaps in border security rather than one huge, long wall, Kelly said.
“We’re not going to be able to build a wall everywhere, all at once,” said the retired Marine general. “We’re not going to build it all in an afternoon…It’s going to take some time.”
Kelly said it’s hard to say how long a wall or walls will take to build because it depends on funding. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said they expect the Trump administration to ask Congress to approve an emergency funding request of $12 billion to $14 billion to pay for the wall. Trump insists that Mexico will reimburse U.S. taxpayers for the cost, but Mexico has vowed that it will not pay for the barrier.
“I would like to see that we would be well underway within two years,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he recently visited the border in Texas and talked to Customs and Border Protection officials who told him “their preference was not to have something they couldn’t see through.” Instead, Kelly said, they wanted transparent barriers constructed quickly in certain places, backed up with technology to help with surveillance.
He said he would soon be visiting Tucson, Ariz. and San Diego to get the opinions of federal and local law enforcement officials there. He said he would ultimately make recommendations about the border barriers based on their observations.
“As we build the wall out — to whatever length it ultimately becomes — we will certainly back that up with personnel, patrolling and technology,” Kelly said.