In his Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, General John Kelly promised a militarization of the southern border, but had absolutely no prepared response for a question about DREAMers raised by Senator Kamala Harris. His performance demonstrated that he has a one-track mind on immigration policy — much like the President-elect he hopes to serve.
During his confirmation hearing, Department of Homeland Security nominee, General John Kelly of the Marine Corps, seemed caught entirely off-guard when Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised questions about immigrants currently protected under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Harris ran through all of the informational requirements and other qualifications that DACA applicants must meet in order to be considered for deferred action. She noted that these young immigrants “are now worried that the information that they provided in good faith to our government may now be used to track them down and lead to their removal,” and she asked Kelly, “Do you agree that under DACA…that we would not use this information against them?” After a long hesitation, Kelly meekly offered that he is not involved in immigration policy with the new administration at the moment, and only said that people with clean criminal records would be low on the priority list.
Harris followed up by reading a question and answer from a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services brochure which states that information related to a young immigrant’s family members would not be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and asked Kelly if he was willing maintain that policy. Kelly again had no real answer, noting that he was not familiar with the document nor with the Trump administration’s plans, but that he would keep “a very open mind.”
Harris further pressed Kelly on where these young immigrants who applied for DACA would fall on his list of priorities, with the limited resources that he would have if confirmed. Kelly responded, “I think law abiding individuals would, in my kind, with limited assets to execute the law, would probably not be at the top of the list.”
Considering that immigration policy would obviously be a topic of discussion at his confirmation hearing, it is galling that Kelly, who has expressed some harsh views about immigrant detainees in the past, would not have prepared more thorough and thoughtful responses to Harris’ questions.
But Kelly was far more prepared to talk about another contentious immigration topic: The Mexican border wall. When Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asked what his plans would be for the wall, Kelly’s response was detailed. He said a “physical barrier in of itself will not do the job,” and that such a wall would need to have a “layered defense” including “patrolling by human beings, by sensors, but observation devices.”
What he is proposing is, in effect, an immense operation of surveillance across the southern border of the United States. This would be a massive devotion of defense spending to cover a nearly 2,000 mile span. It would also call for the deployment of military personnel and equipment within U.S. borders.
Kelly’s preparedness for McCain’s questions and total lack thereof for Harris’ questions demonstrate where his priorities — and in turn, those of his potential new boss — stand. More militarization, more spending, more surveillance gets a resounding yes. What to do about real people is greeted with silence and formulaic dismissal.