WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly offered a strong defense Tuesday of the Trump administration’s actions falling under the department’s umbrella, challenging lawmakers who don’t like its enforcement actions to “shut up” or change the law.
The retired Marine general defended actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection in enforcing U.S. immigration and other laws and blamed the sprawling department’s low employee morale on political meddling.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Kelly said during a 30-minute speech at George Washington University. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
Kelly said DHS employees had been prevented from doing their jobs for “nearly a decade, disabled by pointless bureaucracy and political meddling, and suffered disrespect and contempt by public officials who have no idea what it means to serve.”
The department was created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by putting 22 different federal agencies under the Homeland Security banner.
Democratic lawmakers, including those in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have complained that the Trump administration is departing from Obama administration practice by casting a wide net and targeting undocumented immigrants who have committed no crimes.
Data compiled by DHS shows that ICE has stepped up arrests of non-criminal aliens in the first two months of this year, arresting 5,441 non-criminals compared with 2,278 during the same period in 2016.
Reeling off a list of tasks that various agency employees carry out, Kelly referenced the oft-criticized Transportation Security Administration to highlight his point about capabilities at DHS.
“While you’re binge-watching ‘Mad Men’ on Netflix, TSA is stopping an actual mad man with a loaded gun from boarding a flight to Disney World,” he said.