WASHINGTON – Senators are expected to use Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for John Kelly, Donald Trump’s choice to head the Homeland Security Department, to raise questions about the president-elect’s plans to build a border wall and take other steps to boost immigration security.
The confirmation of Kelly, a retired Marine general, is almost assured, but members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will likely use the hearing to debate the tough immigration and border security policies that were centerpieces of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Kelly is one of several retired generals tapped for top positions by Trump. That has raised some concerns about undue military influence in his administration, weakening the American tradition of civilian control of government.
But Kelly is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, and his military experience is applicable to his Homeland Security role. He’s the former head of the military’s Southern Command, based in South Florida, which routinely works with the Department of Homeland Security to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling. The military command has also partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a part of Homeland Security, to help rescue unaccompanied child immigrants trying to make their way from Central America to the United States alone.
Kelly indicated in newly ethics disclosures that if confirmed he will resign positions with multiple consulting and government contractor firms and defense contractor DynCorp. Kelly listed his salary with DynCorp, a company awarded a 2016 contract from DHS to train Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as more than $166,000.
In a statement prepared for the Senate hearing, Republican chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin praised Kelly as having a “deep knowledge and understanding of the grave security threats facing our nation and the sacrifices that are required to keep us safe.”
Kelly joined the Marine Corps in 1970. He is a battle-hardened, blunt-talking veteran who served three tours in Iraq. He was also the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan.
Kelly would be the fifth person to lead the department, which includes agencies that protect the president, respond to disasters, enforce immigration laws, protect the nation’s coastlines, stop drug smuggling and secure air travel.
Kelly, in his statement for the committee, said he has a “profound respect for the rule of law” and as secretary “will always strive to uphold it.” That is likely to resonate with Republicans, who have complained that President Barack Obama has been too lax in his enforcement of immigration laws and have generally supported Trump’s proposals.
Trump has vowed to deport millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, focusing first on criminals. Kelly is likely to be asked his views on how to accomplish that.
Trump pledged during the campaign to build a border wall – and have Mexico pay for it – though since winning the White House he has softened his stance on both the kind of barrier he wants and how it will be financed.
Last week, Republicans suggested the wall could be paid for from regular spending legislation authorized by Congress. Trump insists that Mexico would reimburse the United States for the costs, but Mexico says it will not do so.
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