Kelly and Sessions’ Stances on Immigration Vetted During Confirmation Hearings

Image courtesy of Glenn Fawcett (CC License)

In terms of immigration policy, two of the most important members of the incoming Trump administration testified at their confirmation hearings on Tuesday, January 10th. Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General, will be in charge of picking judges for the Immigration Courts as well as carrying out other immigration-related duties. Retired Marine General John F. Kelly will head Homeland Security, the primary immigration enforcement and benefits department.

General Kelly struck a moderate tone at his hearing while exhibiting a lack of in-depth knowledge of immigration beyond the topic of Border Security. He also took a very hard line on undocumented immigration.

Kelly said that his top priority as Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) would be to seal the border, beginning “with physical obstacles like a border wall.” In a written statement to the Senate confirmation committee, he elaborated that if “confirmed my highest priority would be to close the border to the illegal movement of people and things.”

Kelly testified that “without control, every other kind of threat — drugs, illegal immigrants, counterfeit manufactured goods and pharmaceuticals, diseases, terrorists, and the list goes on — can enter at will, and does.” He was careful to add that the border security buildup would go well beyond building The Wall. He said that the “presence of physical barriers and additional technology,” which will allow DHS “to focus their efforts on identifying the flow of drugs across the border.” According to Kelly, “No physical structure will accomplish the mission on its own…The wall will funnel the flow in certain directions and into specific cul-de-sacs, but it must be part of a well-designed and executed layered defense that includes sensors, and most importantly, well-trained and professional men and women.”

He also explained that he would push Latin American countries to interdict immigrants and refugees heading north. He said; “I really do think the defense of the border really does start about 1,500 miles south, including partnering with some great countries…to include Mexico.”

Additionally, he advocated for quick deportation of undocumented immigrants. Speaking of his experiences in the military in Latin America, he said, “The message I heard was always the same: ‘If you do not start sending them back to their country of origin quickly and in large numbers, they will never stop making the trek north.’ I believe they are right. I know they are right.”

Kelly exhibited ignorance of what happens to undocumented immigrants caught in the United States. “My understanding is that under current policies, virtually all illegal aliens get a pass until they commit, and are convicted of, a violent crime,” Kelly told the Senators. “The Congress has passed longstanding laws making foreign nationals without legal status removable from the United States, and it is proper for DHS, like any other law enforcement organization, to faithfully execute the laws on the books.”

When asked what he would do about young immigrants with DACA, Kelly gave a non-response, saying he “cannot provide a detailed answer” about what will happen to the recipients, even though they may lose their status as early as next week, as President-elect Trump says he will end the program on his first day in office. He did say that he did not think that DACA would be a “high priority” for arrest.

Kelly seemed to disagree with President-elect Trump on the immigration of Muslims to the United States. Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and demanded a “Muslim Registry.” Kelly told the Senate yesterday, “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to focus on religious factors,” adding “I don’t agree with registering people based on ethnic or religion or anything like that.”

Attorney General nominee Jeff Session gave a somewhat different take on Muslim immigration. “I believe the president-elect subsequent to that statement made clear he believes the focus should be on individuals coming from countries that have a history of terrorism,” he told Senators. He refused to renounce his opposition to a 2015 bill that would have prohibited discrimination against Muslim immigrants. Sessions elaborated during his hearing, “I hope we can keep people out of the country who wants to kill everybody because of their religion.” He noted that he did not believe that most Muslims wanted “to kill everybody.” Sessions, who has long-time ties to groups opposed to legal immigration, said that he supported further reductions in the level of legal immigration.

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