DHS Secretary Kelly tells lawmakers border agents want see-through barricade
By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appeared before a Congressional panel Tuesday to discuss President Trump’s recent executive orders on border security and immigration control and how his department plans to act upon them.
The former Marine general, who has not even been in his new position for even a month, gave testimony along with three public officials from communities near the United States’ border with Mexico before the House Homeland Security Committee.
Just as he testified in his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Kelly again told lawmakers he supported the President’s plan to establish a physical barrier along the country’s southern border, but that barrier cannot be the only line of defense.
A pledge to build a border wall served as the cornerstone to Trump’s successful presidential campaign last year, and he signed an executive order calling for its construction during his first full week in office. It’s Kelly’s job to see that it gets built.
“While the presence of physical barriers and additional technology is essential, it must be bolstered by persistent patrol and the vigilance of the dedicated men and women of DHS,” Kelly said in his opening remarks.
In his testimony, Kelly told lawmakers that the physical barrier may not necessarily be a concrete wall. Border Patrol agents who serve along the 2,000-mile expanse have told the secretary they prefer a barricade that enables them to see what’s happening on the other side.
There are already several stretches along the border that have steel fencing serving as a buffer between the two countries.
However, not everyone who testified supports putting a physical barrier between the two countries.
Eddie Trevino, the county judge in Cameron County Texas, said physical barriers create an illusion of security and really do nothing to stop drug traffickers and other criminals from coming across the border. He also questioned the cost effectiveness of the plan.
“Just imagine being able to invest the $15 to $40 billion dollars estimated that it will take to build the wall on equipment, training, technology, road infrastructure and more boots on the ground,” said Trevino, who presides over the state’s southernmost county. “If you ask the experts in the field, they will tell you that this is where the money should go.”
While the focus of the meeting was on securing the southern border, the committee chairman also commented on another Trump executive order that sought to ban visitors, temporarily, from selected Middle Eastern and African countries until the process to screen terror suspects could be improved.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul noted he drafted a memo to then-candidate Trump last year detailing how the country could improve the process while continuing to accept refugees of all faiths. While the Texas Republican said he was pleased Trump “paid attention” to his recommendations, he shared some concerns with Kelly.
“The rollout of his Executive Order has been problematic,” McCaul said. “It caused confusion here in Congress, across the country, and around the world. And it caused real problems for people with lawful green cards and visas, who in some cases were already in the air when the order was signed.”
Kelly took responsibility for the problems in implementing that order, which has since been blocked by the federal court system. While the President sought an immediate stop to not give potential terrorists a window of opportunity for entry, Kelly told McCaul and the committee that he should have pushed for a slight delay in order to notify elected officials and the public about the changes.