DHS Secretary John Kelly Was on MEET THE PRESS to Lay Out Trump Admin’s Immigration Policy

Apr 16, 2017
9:27 AM

This happened on Sunday morning. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly one-on-one with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. You need to watch it all:

Here is the FULL TRANSCRIPT of the interview, thanks to NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD:”

CHUCK TODD: And joining me now is Retired General John Kelly, now the secretary of Homeland Security. Mr. Secretary, welcome to the show.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Thanks Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with, as a jumping off point, I know Tuesday you’re going to be giving a speech sort of laying out how you see the Department of Homeland Security working. And the speech is titled, “Home and Away, Threats to America and the DHS Response.” We’ve got a threat potentially to America that’s been talked about a lot this weekend, and that’s North Korea. Explain the DHS preparations for something like this North Korea threat.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, as you know, the whole entire department’s responsible for the home game, as we say, and that is the defense of the homeland close in borders and certainly interiors. We do that by in large measure actually by reaching out to partners around the world as far away as the Persian Gulf.

But the point is, to answer your question, if something would happen, regardless of where it is in the world, every threat’s a little bit different. In the case of North Korea, a kinetic threat against the United States right now I don’t think is likely, but certainly a cyber threat. So we would raise various threat levels in the event that something happened and we felt as though that there was a possible threat. You always want to come down on the side of caution.

CHUCK TODD: What is going to be the biggest challenge you think that faces your tenure at DHS?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: I think really the biggest challenge is day in and day out. And it’s a 24/7 thing, and that is just kind of protecting. Securing the southern border certainly is very important, but just protecting your nation from transnational criminal organizations that are largely resident in the United States, but have tentacles outside the country. And then the terrorist threat, a potential terrorist threat whether it’s home grown or from overseas.

CHUCK TODD: Let me get into the issue of immigration and your role in it, and this idea of a deportation force. I know you pushed back on this phrase. But there is apparently a plan to hire 10,000 new ICE agents, 5,000 new border patrol agents. What do you call this if not a deportation force?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: A law enforcement force. Men and women who will do their jobs in the future as they’ve done them in the past. And that is execute and uphold the nation’s laws. There are a huge number, as you know, of illegal aliens or undocumented individuals that have to be dealt with in one way or another.

I would argue, Chuck, that we have to straighten this out. And I place that squarely on the United States Congress. It’s a hugely complex series of laws, and I engage the Hill quite a bit and get an earful about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. But it all comes down to the law, doesn’t it? And we are a nation of laws, and I would hope that the Congress fixes a lot of these problems.

CHUCK TODD: You say it’s on Congress, but there is others that say if you just enforce the law on the books. So what is the issue? Are the laws on the books hard to enforce and they need to be changed? Is that what you’re saying here?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, the laws on the books are pretty straightforward. If you’re here illegally, you should leave or you should be deported, put through the system. But there are 11 million people and it’s very complicated. There are people who came here as children. There are people here who came here illegally many years ago and have married local men and women and had children. It’s a very complicated problem. But the law is the law. But I don’t have an unlimited capacity to execute it.

CHUCK TODD: Is this best use of money? Is this the resources you need? That you need to hire more people to deal with this issue? Is that your number one problem?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Yes, I think so. There’s two aspects. Of course, ICE operate more or less in the interior and do targeted actions against illegal aliens plus. What I mean by that is just because you’re in the United States illegally doesn’t necessarily get you targeted. It’s got to be something else. And we’re operating more or less at the other end of the spectrum, and that is criminals, multiple convictions.

CHUCK TODD: But define a criminal here, because that’s where there’s been– it seemed as if in the Obama administration there was one definition. There seems to be another definition in this administration.


CHUCK TODD: Is the fair to say?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: It is fair to say that the definition of criminal has not changed, but where on the spectrum of criminality we operate has changed.

CHUCK TODD: So can you give me an example of somebody that wasn’t deported before that you’re deporting now?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, someone, as an example, with multiple DUIs. Even a single DUI, depending on other aspects, would get you into the system. And remember, for the most–

CHUCK TODD: And this wouldn’t have been the case under the –

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Unlikely.

CHUCK TODD: — previous administration.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: But you have to remember that there’s a system, a legal justice system in place. And the law deports people. Secretary Kelly doesn’t. ICE doesn’t. It’s the United States criminal justice system or justice system that deports people.

CHUCK TODD: There was a report that there’s some talk of either eliminating the polygraph for new border patrol agents or reforming it. Can you give some context to this? I know that sometimes reporting on things at DHS isn’t fully complete, so I ask you to fill in the blanks here.


CHUCK TODD: Are you getting rid of the polygraph for –


CHUCK TODD: –the border agents?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: First, I would tell you that the men and women of ICE, CVP, Secret Service, I mean everybody, very, very high quality people. They are dedicated professionals. They’re well trained. Their background is vetted extensively. But the current polygraph system takes a long time, it’s very arduous and it’s not very pleasant.

By contrast, there are other parts of the government that do polygraphs very differently. The end result is the same, but there’s other things too. Polygraphs take a long time. They’re expensive. So if you’re coming out of the U.S. military, as an example, and have a relatively high level of clearance, that usually requires you to have taken polygraphs. Not so sure that we have to polygraph those people.

CHUCK TODD: So why not? And no doubt you’re assuming the best of your people, but there’s a reason why this got instituted. There was a big corruption problem, and you and I both know the way drug cartels work. They’re always looking to bribe agents, and you always want to be– even good people become susceptible to bribes. Don’t these need to be among the most vetted law enforcement officials?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Absolutely. Of course. As any law enforcement you have to vet them. You have to monitor them. You have internal affairs that investigate and stay on top of it. It’s a never-ending process to keep people on the straight and narrow. The good news is the vast majority of people stay on the straight and narrow all by themselves and can’t even be tempted. In some cases, very limited numbers of people will break the law and you put the systems in place to catch them.

CHUCK TODD: I want to go back to the $11 million. It seems that the bigger problem you’re dealing with is not the border. It’s visa overstays.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: That is a big problem. Big problem.

CHUCK TODD: Is that what you need? You need ICE agents to do that? Is that what you need the extra resources for?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: All of that. I mean it’s a big problem. There’s a lot of people out there that need to be taken into custody and deported, according to the law. Visa overstays is quite a large number of the illegals that are in the country that are in fact visa overstays.

And we just completed, I think, a targeted op. They just completed, ICE just completed, a targeted operation going after overstays. It’s time consuming, but at the end of the day they came here with a promise to leave, and we have to track them down, and if they’re still in the country, and put them in the proceedings to deport them.

CHUCK TODD: I guess I’m going at this, would the money for thing border wall be better spent on going after the visa overstays? And would that actually deal with the problem President Trump campaigned on?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Chuck, you really do have to secure the border somehow, first and foremost. The very, very, very good news is, for a lot of different reasons, the number of illegal aliens that are moving up from the south has dropped off precipitously. I mean we’re down 65%, 70% in the last two months. These are the months that we should see a steep incline in illegal movement. It’s down, as I say, by almost 70%.

CHUCK TODD: Do you think some of that’s been the president’s rhetoric in the campaign and basically saying, “Well, he won and it’s going to be tougher to get across the border?”

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, certainly.

CHUCK TODD: Do you think that sort of contributed?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Absolutely. And some of the other things we’ve done on the border. I mean just my going down to the border on several occasions. You know that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, was just down there. The attention being paid to the border certainly has injected into those people– and the vast majority of them are good people from Central America.

But it’s injected enough confusion in their minds, I think, and they’re just waiting to see what actually does happen. But as you probably saw the other day, Jeff Sessions is in the process of hiring a relatively large number of immigration judges, station them on the border to speed up the process of– right after capture to speed up the process of deportation. All, of course, within the law.

CHUCK TODD: You say that we need to secure the southern border. There’s always been agreement about securing the southern border- the physical barrier. Has technology gotten to the point you don’t need the physical barrier? Or why is there an emphasis on a physical barrier?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, you need all of that. First, there has been a lot of talk over the decades about securing the southwest border. But when you consider the almost wide open immigration that we saw, certainly in the last eight to 10 years, as well as the hundreds of tons, and if you count marijuana, thousands of tons of drugs that come in through the southwest border, it’s clearly not secure.

So it’s a combination of building physical barriers, walls. There are places perhaps that a physical barrier or wall wouldn’t be appropriate. Say across rivers, obviously, or the very, very rough terrain of the Big Bend area of Texas. But whatever we do in terms of building a wall, and as you know, I think, there’s about 600 miles of barrier already in –


SEC. JOHN KELLY: — place.

CHUCK TODD: Down in–

SEC. JOHN KELLY: But nothing replaces men and women, dedicated, patrolling that border. Nothing.

CHUCK TODD: You as head of SouthCOM, essentially, the southern military command at your previous job before this, you were testifying on this issues, particularly during the time we had this surge of Central American immigration through Mexico. And I remember at the time you said, “Hey, I stop at the,” essentially the Guatemalan border.


CHUCK TODD: Your purview. But you talked about the difficulty – you were trying to find partners at the time in Central America to help you with this, and the U.S. drug consumption, the U.S. drug consumer, you saw it as part of the problem in all of this. Explain.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Drug consumption in the United States is the problem. Just cocaine alone when you consider the massive amounts of profit that come out of the United States. The trafficker’s biggest problem is not getting drugs, till now, into the United States. The biggest problem they had was laundering the money.

So when you have that much profit coming out of the United States, and that profit is managed by cartels that are beyond violent. And so you go to the Latin American countries, Mexico, the United States for that matter. You mentioned corruption already. The kind of money they can offer an attorney general in Guatemala or a police chief in Mexico City, the kind of money they can offer –and if you don’t take the money they’re happy to send your youngest child’s head to your home in a plastic bag.

CHUCK TODD: You’d said, though, the hypocrisy aspect of it. Meaning –


CHUCK TODD: — these Central American countries — is the idea of, for instance, marijuana legalization, does that help your problem or hurt your problem?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war.

CHUCK TODD: This really is a cocaine, and in some cases the opioid, sort of, copycats?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: It’s three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south. Those three drugs result in the death in ’15, I think, of 52,000 people to include opiates. It’s a massive problem. 52,000 Americans. You can’t put a price on human misery. The cost to the United States is over $250 billion a year.

The solution is not arresting a lot of users. The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south.

CHUCK TODD: Do you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle then. You feel like until something is done on what you just described, because that’s not what’s in the DHS mandate?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: When I was in the Marine Corps people would often say to me, “Marine four-star, why are you so involved in this drug thing?” And my answer is because no one else is. I get almost no interest from the last administration, as much as I railed about it. To just start the process of getting after this drug demand.

President Trump has recognized this and has taken it on. He and I have had numerous conversations. As you know he’s put together a commission. He’s serious about it. But it has to involve everyone, Chuck. It has to involve sports figures, Hollywood, obviously the president. Everybody. Much as we’ve done in various other campaigns to reduce bad behavior.

CHUCK TODD: Cooperation when it comes to terrorism threats with Muslim communities is extraordinarily important. Has the extreme vetting and the coverage around the extreme vetting issue, and the concern from many Muslim Americans that they think it’s gone too far, and from other Muslim countries, has that made your job harder?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: No. First of all, we haven’t implemented any extreme vetting yet. And as I think you’d agree, well, we’re doing nothing in terms of stopping the flow of people from various countries because of the court order.


SEC. JOHN KELLY: But I’ve been out recently to Dearborn, Michigan, I’ll go to Chicago in a couple of weeks, specifically to meet with Americans who happen to be Muslim or follow the Muslim faith or Americans who happen to be Somali or Americans who happen to also be Arabs and just hear them out. Yes, there’s concern, because of, frankly, and with due respect to the media, an awful lot of less than full reporting of what was actually being done.

CHUCK TODD: Was that the media’s fault or has the president’s rhetoric been too –

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, the rhetoric’s been there for sure, but as an example, some of the things that happened when those EOs were put out, the reporting was kind of at best inaccurate in many cases. I don’t think it was made up. I just think it was not as comprehensive as it ought to be.

I kept talking to members of Congress and they kept saying, “Kelly, why don’t you get the word out as to what you’re actually doing?” And this applies to what we’re doing with ICE and how we’re apprehending illegal immigrants. I can’t get the update. I can’t get the press to report. Now, that said, part of this has been our fault.


SEC. JOHN KELLY: Homeland Security has not had a good relationship with the press. I am going out of my way. I’ve hired some of the best people I could find. We are leaning forward with the press. I’m sitting here in front of you right now.

CHUCK TODD: Right. Yes.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: We’re doing the same thing with the Hill. The House and Senate. I’ve been over numerous times to sit down with members not only hearings, but members of Congress, the Hispanic Caucus, the Democratic Caucus on the House side. I’m doing the best I can to reach out. You may not agree with what I say, or you may not like the answers I give, but they’re honest, they’re straightforward and they’re all based on the law.

CHUCK TODD: One time you said, “You’re not going to win this thing by dropping bombs on these people,” referring to defeating ISIS. You just dropped what is known as the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan. An effective use?

SEC. JOHN KELLY: It was designed to do what it was dropped on. I mean it’s very, very useful. It’s a conventional bomb. It’s a big bomb. And designed to do exactly – to penetrate the Earth to some degree, and either get after deeply hidden – in this case I believe it was a cave or a tunnel system. It’s certainly capable of doing that to bunker systems and things like that. So a conventional weapon designed to do exactly what it did.

CHUCK TODD: But you had said you’re not going to win this with ISIS –

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well, not just by dropping bombs on them. We have to change the way Middle Easterners think. There’s obviously a civil war going on between the Sunnis and the Shia. I mean I served in Afghanistan. All over Iraq. I’m sorry. In Iraq. I understand the faith. I don’t understand the hate between the two groups.

But while I was in Iraq leading Marine soldiers, sailors, airmen, working with the Sunni tribes, working with the Shia tribes, there is a solution, but the only solution is not dropping bombs on them. We’ve got to change the dynamic in these countries relative to everything from democracy to how they live their lives.

And somehow get our arms around this issue of opportunity in the Middle East. It’s probably not really our problem or our job. It’s the job of those countries and the international community to help. It’s not an American job necessarily. But we’ve got to change that, and in the meantime we’ve got to keep killing ISIS as fast and as efficiently as we can.

CHUCK TODD: All right, General Kelly, Secretary Kelly, I will leave it there. I hope you have a happy Easter.

SEC. JOHN KELLY: Chuck. Yes, thank you.